On Thursday, when the news broke that Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz had agreed to form a national-unity government, pundits and politicians on both left and right seemed to agree that the incumbent prime minister had managed to outmaneuver his rival. But as details of the coalition agreement emerged, this interpretation began to seem less convincing. Haviv Rettig Gur explains:
[A] laundry list of right-wing demands [landed on] the cutting-room floor in the negotiations, despite the huge majority [that] the 58-seat political right will have in the coming Netanyahu-led government. [For instance]: Blue and White’s Avi Nissenkorn, a left-leaning former union leader and the party’s candidate for justice minister, is expected to reverse the right’s efforts to reform and weaken the [outsize powers of the] judiciary and [its attendant legal apparatus].
The list of concessions handed to Gantz so far in the negotiations is long indeed. Gantz demanded and will receive an almost one-to-one ratio of Knesset members to ministries in the new coalition. Netanyahu’s loyal religious-right allies will be lucky to be left with a minister for every four lawmakers.
For Gantz, his enormous cabinet presence of some fifteen ministers (the exact number hasn’t been finalized) isn’t just a sign of his negotiating leverage; it’s a sign of his priorities. His faction is so invested in managing executive-branch agencies that almost no one will be left in the parliament building to push significant legislation or to be a meaningful presence in budget fights. In other words, Gantz isn’t planning to advance the kind of long-term policy shifts that demand legislation.
Does this mean the famously skilled and tenacious Netanyahu has finally lost his touch? Hardly, continues Gur:
Netanyahu made a simple calculation: he needed [the support of Gantz and his party] to obtain a stable coalition—but the smaller [Gantz’s] faction, the better. So he promised Gantz a shared government on an equal one-to-one unity basis, regardless of the number of Knesset members Gantz actually brought with him [into the coalition].
By thus giving Gantz the assurances he needed to break away from his longtime partner Yair Lapid, Netanyahu obtained his Knesset majority—and with the added boon of an “equal” partner that lacked the numbers in the Knesset to pose a serious threat to Likud or Netanyahu. That Lapid, [who represents a secularist faction], would be on the outside didn’t hurt, either; the coalition wouldn’t have to endure the constant strain of Lapid and the ḥaredi parties battling [each other] from within on religion-and-state issues.