Forming the Israeli government
Coalition agreement signed: On April 20th, after three elections of campaigns replete with unprecedented vilification, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Knesset Speaker Benny Gantz signed a coalition agreement to form a unity government, which was met with a spectrum of emotions ranging from praise to condemnation.
What’s in the agreement: The dense agreement addresses the mutual concern that one party will betray the other. It also alters Israel’s constitutional system in unprecedented ways, most at the expense of parliament. For example, the unity government will serve for 36 months, with the first 18 months led by Netanyahu and then an automatic transfer of power, without requiring Knesset approval, to Gantz.
Attempt at safeguarding the turnover of power: There is a provision that the deal can only be repealed with a majority of 75 votes in the 120 member Knesset. Nearly all legislation only has the requirement of 61 votes. Additionally, the agreement grants the alternate Prime Ministers a legally binding veto on Knesset legislation and each Prime Minister, as the head of his legally binding political ‘bloc,’ can alone fire ministers from the ‘bloc.’ Legislators passed the first bill required to form a government and are now moving on to two more parliament-wide votes. May 7 is the deadline to call for new elections and many fear that the legislative process will run out the clock.
High Court weighs in: The High Court of Justice is scheduled to hear petitions next week against Netanyahu returning to be the Prime Minister while he remains under indictment in his corruption trial. The Court will also begin to consider arguments that the coalition deal violates Israel’s constitutional system.
Netanyahu & Gantz respond: Netanyahu’s Likud Party responded to the petitions with the charge that any disqualification of Netanyahu will be an intervention of constitutional authority granted by law to the President and the Knesset, not the judiciary. Gantz’s Blue and White Party agreed that the Court should approve Netanyahu’s candidacy: “In light of the very special set of circumstances facing the State of Israel, three electoral campaigns in a year and a half… a health crisis stemming from the spread of the coronavirus, an economic crisis stemming in part from a health crisis, and legal uncertainty, we believe that the public interest requires at this time the establishment of an emergency government and national unity.”
Will the coalition deal prove toothless? Further complicating matters, there is a concern that the deal will be toothless if the provision requiring 75 Knesset members to repeal the deal is not upheld. There are almost no bills that require more than 61 votes to amend or repeal them. Netanyahu’s bloc already comprises 59 members of the Knesset, meaning he would only have to find two additional votes to cancel the agreement. Yair Lapid (previously of Blue and White and current chairman of Yesh Atid-Telem faction), announced he would back Netanyahu if he wanted to cancel his deal with Gantz at any point, a surprising turn of events for the former Gantz ally.