On April 20, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the leader of the opposition Rav Aluf Binyamin “Benny” Gantz announced a power-sharing agreement between their respective Likud (Consolidation) and Kahol Lavan (Blue and White) parties. This agreement appears to have ended the political paralysis that has seen three elections within 12 months, giving the nation its first functional government since April of last year.
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The newly-announced coalition deal provides for Netanyahu to continue in post as Prime Minister until October 2021, at which point he will be replaced by Gantz; a former Israeli Defence Forces General who has ascended rapidly given that he only truly began his political career last year. For the next 18 months, Gantz will step down as Knesset speaker and serve as Deputy Prime Minister. Throughout the life of this new government, each party will control 16 of Israel’s 32 ministries through 32 ministers and 16 deputies, making it the largest government in the nation’s history.
Despite the sigh of relief that accompanies the long-awaited agreement between the two parties, disagreements have not been entirely solved. In particular, judicial appointments have been a key obstacle in the negotiations, driven in no small part by concerns surrounding undue influence over Netanyahu’s approaching corruption trial, which has been postponed to late May due to the pandemic. The Prime Minister is charged with bribery, breach of trust, and fraud, having been accused of wrongfully accepting $264,000 worth of gifts from business figures, and of providing regulatory favours in exchange for improved coverage by a popular news website. Bribery carries a potential 10-year prison sentence and fraud and breach of trust carry 3 year sentences.
For Netanyahu, the agreement brings the immediate benefit of allowing him to concentrate on his corruption trial defence without the distraction of needing to secure his premiership. That said, including the almost-certain-to-follow appeals process after any conviction, the entire trial process could endure beyond the 18-month post as Prime Minister that Netanyahu has secured through the coalition deal. While the trial is almost certain to be highly disruptive in the coming 18 months, once Netanyahu transitions to the post of Deputy Prime Minister, any ongoing trial would likely be less disruptive.
For Gantz, the coalition deal is more surprising given campaign promises that he wouldn’t serve alongside a prime minister under criminal indictment. Although Gantz is likely to have lost support in some key demographics by entering into the power-sharing agreement alongside Netanyahu, if the coalition can be sustained it carries the benefit of preventing Netanyahu from continually delaying his trial, which may satisfy Gantz supporters motivated by a desire to oust Netanyahu. The deal also brings stability to Israeli governance at a critical moment with regards to managing the Covid-19 crisis, but also in progressing on outstanding policy issues.
One key part of the coalition deal, laid out in Clause 29, allows the Government to initiate legislation on the annexation of large parts of the West Bank starting on July 1, with the assumption of support from the U.S. government. Washington has tentatively blessed the annexation proposal, stating previously that it would rescind its veto once a government had been formed and a joint US-Israeli mapping team completes its efforts to determine exactly which territories in the West Bank will be annexed. While Gantz has largely been hesitant around annexation over fears of the instability that it would likely provoke, Netanyahu sees the move as a route to securing a long-sought legacy beyond his corruption trial.
Moving forward with the annexation could prove risky, as any such move would almost certainly provoke violent clashes with Palestinian communities in border areas and around the controversial West Bank settlements, and would likely lead to a resumption of sporadic rocket attacks launched from Gaza. With Israeli security forces currently heavily deployed in support of the Covid-19 response, an increase in hostilities would come at an inconvenient moment.
Domestically, the coalition deal is highly likely to alleviate the significant policy concerns that have accrued during the drawn-out Knesset deadlock, with key functions such as the creation of a state budget; now enabled for the first time in a year. The new government should also allow a more coordinated response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Despite these positive impacts, Netanyahu’s corruption trial will likely continue to destabilise the Government through the Prime Minister’s unpredictability as he attempts to avoid a court appearance. The solidity of the coalition is unclear at this point and could quickly collapse should either side renege on the agreed terms. As such, although the deal has made Israel more stable in the short-term, this remains vulnerable to Netanyahu’s corruption trial and the Prime Minister’s attempts to avoid conviction.
Against the backdrop of the Covid-19 crisis, even short-term stability may prove a blessing.
Suggested e-learning courses related to this topic:
- Contemporary Issues in World Politics – University of Naples Federico II
- Humanitarian Response to Conflict and Disaster – Harvard University
- Terrorism and Counterterrorism – Georgetown University
- International Human Rights Law – Université catholique de Louvain
Suggested books for in-depth reading on this topic:
- Israeli Identity and the Knesset (Jesse Braun)
- Be Strong and of Good Courage: How Israel’s Most Important Leaders Shaped Its Destiny (Dennis Ross & David Makovsky)
- The Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Very Short Introduction (Martin Bunton)
- Politics and Government in Israel: The Maturation of a Modern State (Gregory S. Mahler)
- An Army Like No Other: How the Israel Defense Forces Made a Nation (Haim Bresheeth-Zabner)
Additional geopolitical reading suggestions can be found on our 2020 reading list
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Lewis Tallon is a former British Army Intelligence Officer with extensive experience working and living in the Middle East and North Africa region and Asia Pacific in security, geopolitical, armed conflict and threat intelligence roles. Lewis currently specialises in providing EMEA-region geopolitical intelligence support to the technology sector, the oil & gas industry, and the financial services world.
For an in-depth, bespoke briefing on this or any other geopolitical topic, consider Encylopedia Geopolitica’s intelligence consulting services.
Photo: SSG Teddy Wade, photo showing Rav Aluf Binyamin “Benny” Gantz, during his tenure as Chief of General Staff of the Israel Defense Forces, receiving rav-aluf (Lt. General) rank from the Defense minister Ehud Barak and the Prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu