Israel got itself a unity government this week. To be honest, I was caught by surprise. I thought it wouldn’t come to it, and that Netanyahu would wait for fourth elections in August. I mean, the opposition led by Benny Gantz was now splintered by his willingness to break his central campaign promise of not serving under an indicted Prime Minister, and polls showed that Netanyahu would have a decisive right wing majority (of 64) without Gantz, if elections were held today.
But they made that deal, and while it may look like a big compromise from Netanyahu’s side, it might well be an even more secure tactic for him to ensure his continuing legacy. Gantz had already taken the post of parliament speaker in the interim, and there have been plots, not least from right-wing Avigdor Lieberman of Israel Beitenu, to enact legislation that will bar Netanyahu from serving further.
The new structure agreed upon is based on a coalition of two blocs that mistrust one another– which are literally defined as such. The setup is that the two blocs have an equal ministerial count of 15 each. Gantz’s Blue-White-dominated bloc includes Labor (with two ministerial posts), and Netayanhu’s Likud bloc has its 15 posts. Each bloc has mechanisms to block the other bloc from unilateral actions.
Under the agreement, Netanyahu will serve as Prime Minister for the first 18 months, and Gantz would then take over for the second period of 18 months.
The government is rationalized on the logic of the coronavirus crisis, which is why it has a 6-month “emergency” period that could be extended by three-month increments upon agreement. In this period, the blocs have veto right over each other – but there is one exception: Annexation. Gantz’s bloc will not oppose it, it’s secured.
This is the big symbolic prize that Netanyahu wishes to capitalize upon, and that would be a cornerstone of his legacy. According to this agreement, by the 1st of July there would be a go-ahead for legislating annexation of large swaths of the Palestinian Occupied West Bank, including the majority of Israeli settler-colonies. The timing is important so as to dovetail with Trump’s ‘deal of the century’ which basically gives annexation the green light, and this would also serve as a partisan victory for the Trumpian evangelical base in the US, as well as for Sheldon Adelson, who is both Trump’s main financer as well as the patron of Netanyahu’s main propaganda apparatus – the daily freebee Israel Hayom newspaper. So the unity government will not take this dual-victory possibility away from Netanyahu.
Let it in any case noted, that when Netanyahu presented his plan for annexation ahead of the second election last September, Blue White said he stole their idea – in other words, Blue White are not exactly selling their mother here, they are just selling out Palestinians, as is their way.
The situation in terms of judicial committees is interesting, because that’s a threat for Netanyahu, who is under indictment on corruption charges and facing trial. The major committees are more or less equally divided to balance the blocs, and in the judicial appointments committee the deciding vote position was given to Zvi Hauser, who is considered the “opposition representative” in the committee. Hauser is a former Netanyahu cabinet secretary, and represents the most right-wing faction of Gantz’s bloc. When Blue-White held a “democracy rally”, Hauser and Yoaz Hendel boycotted it because it was announced that Ayman Odeh, leader of the Palestinian-representing Joint List, would be speaking. On the issue of appointments of Attorney General and State Prosecutor, Netanyahu would have a veto.
So now, how many people believe this will last?
If you ask the Israelis, it goes like this:
Only 31% of them believe that Netanyahu will honor the rotation agreement, according to a Channel 13 poll.
But here’s an interesting thing: 80% of Likud voters support the deal. Why is it that they don’t want him to wait for another election and secure a rightwing victory? Apparently most Likud supporters appear to believe that it’s a way to secure Likud power in the long run. They might also be aware that this agreement quells, for the time being, the powers that have converged to limit Netanyahu’s immunity and ability to continue serving as Prime Minister.
Among Blue White voters, only 57% support the unity government. But they just don’t have the numbers, and they should know that it’s not looking better for them under the coronavirus crisis. Gantz has claimed that the unity government is the responsible thing to do, claiming a pious “apolitical” motive:
“Some wanted to continue to move toward more and more elections and perhaps score political points… I and my colleagues could not stand by.”
But it would be way too naïve to give Gantz the credit of such altruistic humanitarian motives. He is a cynical politician, who has boasted of returning Gaza to the stone ages as he came into politics, and he will have ample opportunity to do that yet again now as Defense Minister. Gantz knows that if it came to a fourth election, Netanyahu might well win decisively, and with Gantz’s credibility already compromised by the major volte face on serving under Netanyahu (which many off his Blue White allies didn’t forgive), would probably be seriously diminished. Gantz was saving himself.
Back to that survey – as mentioned, only 31% believe that Netanyahu will respect the rotation agreement. Almost two thirds (62%) support the unity government, yet a plurality (41%) believe that Netanyahu won’t vacate his seat (25% don’t know).
These polls are of course “mood polls”. They are based on a lot of assumptions and hunches in the general population. But Israelis have come to know Netanyahu quite well in his 14 years and 4 terms of premiership. They know he always has tricks in the box, and he always seems to manage to continue.
So the bottom line here: This is a deal that most Likudniks love. They have reduced the opposition, and laid a path to ensuring the Netanyahu legacy of a major colonialist consolidation: the annexation of large parts of the West Bank, materializing de jure that which Israel has been striving for since 1967 (and in the bigger picture since 1948), the Bantustanization of Palestine.
The Zionist takeover of Palestine is not nearly over, but Netanyahu is taking steps to be remembered for securing a major win in the Zionist venture.