Analysis: Winners And Losers In Thursday’s Mad Political Upheaval In Israel

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Head of the Blue and White party Benny Gantz speaks to supporters in Tel Aviv, ahead of the Israeli general elections, on February 20, 2020. Photo by Tomer Neuberg/FLASH90

JERUSALEM (VINnews) — After a rollercoaster week in Israeli politics, Israel has gone from being a parliament without a government and governed by the judiciary to a government independent of it’s parliament- in just 24 mad hours.

On Wednesday evening, after Chief Justice Chayut ruled that Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein’s resignation could not prevent the Knesset from appointing a caretaker speaker, it seemed as if the pillars of Israeli democracy were under attack. Judge Chayut arrogated to herself the right to intervene in Israel’s legislative body in an unprecedented act of judicial activism and in a way which seemed blatantly political in nature. After all, Edelstein as a member of a separate body could have chosen to snub the court and continue to hold his seat rather than have it pulled from under him by a judiciary he is not subordinate to. Edelstein’s resignation was supposed to delay, but not cancel the appointment of a Blue-And-White member as speaker and the court needlessly ruled on a matter it could have easily ignored.

However Chayut’s ruling, and the Likud threat that there would be no unity government if an alternative speaker was appointed, may have finally led Benny Gantz to the realization that if he want’s to be prime minister, it was now or never. Gantz correctly chose now rather than maintaining unity in his party, establishing a minority government supported by Arabs which would hardly survive a day and continuing the political crisis despite the far more urgent need to deal with the corona crisis. Israelis across the board this week were sickened to see the politicians bickering over who would lead committees as the country bleeds both economically and physically from the effects of COVID-19.

Gantz also finally displayed some leadership qualities and political acumen, striking a deal which will give his party both the foreign ministry and defense ministries and cutting the unhealthy umbilical cord with Yair Lapid and Moshe Yaalon, whose only criterion in coalition negotiations was “Just not Bibi”. If by September 2021 he has learnt to inspire and to govern he may emerge as a capable leader and successor to Netanyahu.

The biggest loser from Gantz’s move is Avigdor Liberman who after dragging Israel to three elections in an effort to both unseat Netanyahu and neutralize the Chareidi parties will now find himself marginalized and with no real influence in the government. Lapid, who dreamed of making a rotation with Gantz for prime minister, is also a big loser, as is Yaalon who dreamed of returning to power at the expense of his arch-foe Netanyahu. The Arab party is also a big loser- instead of being wooed by the left-wing parties it will now languish in opposition with Liberman who despises the Arab MKs even more than Jewish Force leader Itamar Ben-Gvir.

The Chareidi parties meanwhile can celebrate tonight. They maintain both their ministries and their central place in the government and have succeeded via Gantz in ridding themselves of both their implacable foes who sought to legislate anti-religious laws and revamp the conscription law. (Who remembers that last May the wording of the conscription law was what prevented Liberman joining Netanyahu in a right-wing government in the first election?). To a lesser extent the Religious Zionists can celebrate, as Bennett will pay the price of failure and probably return to the education ministry but at least will be part of the government.

Ultimately the most important thing is that Israel after a tortuous year with three elections and facing its biggest economic challenge ever with over 20% unemployed- will finally have a viable government and this presumably is what motivated Gantz to compromise “for the good of the country” – and for his own political future.

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