Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz each turned a blind eye last night to the distress on Israel's streets and agreed on the formation of the most profligate government in the country's history. The government will have no fewer than 36 ministers and 16 deputy ministers, meaning that it will be grotesquely, and irresponsibly, bloated.
In the coalition negotiations, Blue & White surrendered every position with any influence on economic affairs, from minister of finance to the critical post of minister of health, and allowed the country to be subject to a two-year budget, at a time when the fiscal deficit will widen. The mechanism described in the coalition agreement will require an amendment to The Basic Law: The State Economy. The sides did provide for the possibility of an update to the budget at the beginning of the financial year (in January), but stipulated that if they have disputes, they will view the original budget as a continuation budget.
In other words, Netanyahu saw to it that fiscal disputes, which are the core of political contention, will not hinder him from continuing to rule. With the Ministry of Finance in Likud's hands for the next three years, Blue & White handed over to Likud the main key to managing the Israeli economy.
The Knesset Finance Committee too, as well as the special Coronavirus Committee, the Labor, Welfare and Health Committee, and the Economic Affairs Committee - that is, all the Knesset committees that supervise economic legislation - will remain under Likud control. Likud will thus have full control over social and economic policy.
Even on the IDF conscription law, Blue & White caved in to Likud's demands, and took the question of conscription targets away from the legislature and transferred it to the government. The upshot will be that the unequal sharing of the burden among Israel's citizens will continue; with only half the population paying taxes, secular and religious-nationalist youngsters will remain the ones subject to compulsory military service.
A few weeks ago, Gantz said that he would put his shoulder to the wheel to help in a time of crisis, but in the coalition agreement it is clear that the last thing that interests him is the country's economic plight. Apart from a veto in the ministerial legislation committee, his ministers will have no means of steering economic policy.
Gantz tried to sell a narrative of saving democracy from Netanyahu's claws, but perusal of the coalition agreement reveals that Blue & White retreated on every constitutional and legal front. The Judicial Appointments Committee has been entirely handed over to the right, with two Knesset members from the coalition, instead of one from the coalition and one from the opposition as in the past, one of them being Zvi Hauser, who will certainly be keen to appoint conservative judges.
Two government ministers will also sit on the Committee. Contrary to the emotive declarations we have heard from Blue & White's ranks in the past few weeks, the provision that ministers will be dismissed if indictments are filed against them was erased. The Pinchasi-Deri precedent, in which the High Court of Justice ruled that ministers facing criminal charges must resign or be dismissed, is a thing of the past, and this will be expressed in legislation.
Perhaps most serious of all from the point of view of stable government is that if the High Court of Justice rules that Netanyahu cannot serve as prime minister (because he is about to stand trial on corruption charges), the agreement will immediately become void and another election will be held.
Last night, Gantz boasted of having saved the country from a fourth election within a year and a half, but that is by no means certain. Even worse: if there is a wasteful fourth election, all the politicians, this time including those from Blue & White, will say that the blame lies with the justices of the Supreme Court. As though they aren't battered enough on a regular day.
On the economic side, the agreement gives few details. There are no basic policy statements, no reference to the precarious state of the economy, only fixes and legal chicanery to prop up Netanyahu's standing, including seeing to an additional residence for the second eighteen-month period, as though Netanyahu doesn't have enough private property.
"The Deputy Prime Minister will receive conditions appropriate to his status, such as residential arrangements, an office, and every directly or indirectly consequential facility." In other words, while the Israeli public buckles under the severe economic situation, taxpayers will finance bureaus, houses, and other arrangements because the alternate prime minister "will be entitled to all accompanying conditions."
During the emergency period, defined in the agreement as six months, all legislation will be to do with the coronavirus outbreak, but the agreement contains no policy outline, and each side will be able to stymie initiatives.
The ministerial legislation committee headed by Avi Nissenkorn will be the most paralyzed institution in the country. They won't be able to move left or right, up or down, without the agreement of both sides.
One thing, however, is not included in the legislative ban, namely legislation on annexing Judea and Samaria. Under the agreement, Netanyahu will be able to present to the cabinet the imposition of Israeli sovereignty from July 1, 2020, and to bring it before the Knesset for approval. The cost of imposing sovereignty is not mentioned in the agreement, but it is superfluous to state that if it leads to cancellation of the peace agreement with Jordan, it will have very negative economic consequences for the country (not to mention the diplomatic and security consequences).
One last bizarre thing concerning the agreement: What will happen if Netanyahu decides to resign as prime minister ten days before the end of his eighteen months in the post?
Under the cumbersome agreement, Gantz will then commence his eighteen months as prime minister, but at the end of that period, Netanyahu will be entitled to have his ten days back. That will mean that, after 36 months, the country will enter the election campaign for the 24th Knesset with Netanyahu as prime minister, and he be able to remain prime minister as head of a transitional government, and to continue in office in every transitional period, even if he is unable to form a new government. That way, he could be prime minister during the 24th, 25th and 26th Knesset. The lesson of 2019-2020 has not been learned.
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on April 21, 2020
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