Interior Minister Arye Dery was the underwriter of the unity government. In fact, before it was formed, both Dery and Construction Minister Yaakov Litzman promised Kahol Lavan leaders Benny Gantz and Gabi Ashkenazi that they would guarantee that the job of prime minister rotated as planned. In an interview with the newspaper Haderech this week, Dery made it clear that his Shas party opposes new elections, adding, “The dispute over the budget is solvable.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must not be allowed to control the conversation, build up a story about a lack of the governability needed to fight the coronavirus and thereby justify dismantling the government. His opposition to a two-year budget is meant to dismantle the government and return to a status he likes even better than that of prime minister – temporary prime minister in a caretaker government.
LISTEN: Protests, pandemics and Netanyahu's day of reckoning
Netanyahu has apparently decided to exploit the political impasse for his own benefit. The political stalemate between the two blocs kept Israel stuck in a rut for more than a year, through three elections, by making it impossible for either bloc to form a government – an impasse from which the country was extricated with difficulty only thanks to the emergency created by the coronavirus, which enabled, or forced, the leaders of both blocs to join forces and establish a unity government. But it turns out that this impasse is a treasure trove of governability.
Apparently Russian President Vladimir Putin, who passed a constitutional amendment to extend his existing 20 years in power until 2036, has a lot to learn from Netanyahu. Why dirty your hands with passing constitutional amendments and be viewed as a dictator when it’s possible to build an eternal reign out of a situation of democratic limbo?
Netanyahu has invented his own solution – instead of perpetual rule, perpetual elections, which he always enters from the position of temporary prime minister in a caretaker government. He realized that the only way to rule forever is to rule temporarily between elections.
Netanyahu isn’t dismantling the government because he isn’t able to pass the budget. He’s failing to pass the budget in order to become a temporary prime minister. One can actually see the steam emerging from Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit’s ears, as well as those of the honored justices of the High Court of Justice, as they labor over a constitutional issue that will masquerade as a paradox: Can a temporary prime minister be declared incapacitated?
One can also envision the “healthy” logic that will guide them to postpone Netanyahu’s trial until after the election. Because what’s more logical than waiting for him to once again become a permanent prime minister before declaring him incapacitated? Or alternatively, then they’ll be forced to recognize that this is the will of the people, which will pave the road to yet another election. And the cycle will repeat itself endlessly.
- Several arrested for attacking demonstrators at anti-Netanyahu protests across Israel
- Anti-Netanyahu protesters say they were violently attacked by right-wing activists
- As chaos reigns, Netanyahu must carefully weigh whether he really wants an election
Of course, there’s always a chance that Netanyahu will lose the election. That scenario would be the best one for the body and soul of Israelis. Consequently, there’s a public-spirited voice inside us that, faced with the possibility of holding another election, rightly says, “Let’s do it.”
But it’s not clear that the coronavirus, which has revealed the weakness Netanyahu hid under his “magician’s” robe, has managed to reduce the political, ethnic and economic tensions among different segments of Israeli society. Those tensions are what provided the energy that he channeled to remain in power for so many years. And because Netanyahu has found a way to derive benefit from a political impasse, holding new elections plays into his hands even if we’re convinced that neither he nor anyone else will win.
The alternative is to keep going until the prime minister’s job rotates in November 2021. The only way for Shas and Litzman’s United Torah Judaism to keep their promise is to make sure the budget passes and keep this bizarre government going at least until the scheduled rotation.
Obviously, they don’t owe anything to the anti-Bibi camp. In fairness, we must admit that the opposite is true. But maybe they’ll feel that this is the right thing to do. And once the rotation happens, we can consider elections.