Just Because the Knesset Closed for a Few Days, Israeli Democracy Was Not about to Collapse

March 24 2020

With Israel facing a political impasse due to the uncertain results of the most recent election, the speaker of the Knesset, Yuli Edelstein, canceled the opening of the legislative session last week, first citing fears of coronavirus spreading among the members, then citing a desire not to interfere with coalition negotiations. Soon articles began appearing in the Israeli press warning of imminent danger to democracy, which were then echoed by an American press eager to believe the worst. But the Knesset resumed its business yesterday, with members voting in shifts, and no more than ten members allowed in the room at any given time. Haviv Rettig Gur explains that there was never a threat to democracy but a problem of a very different sort:

Israeli democracy is not in grave danger, but Israeli politics faces its most severe crisis in recent memory. The current political stalemate is rooted not in Edelstein’s obstinacy or in any specific and irrefutable assault on Israeli democracy, but in Blue and White leader Benny Gantz’s political weakness. Gantz claims to have “won” the March 2 election, and, having been recommended as prime minister by 61 of the 120 members of Knesset now holds the appointment from the president to form the next government. But that doesn’t change the fact that he leads a 61-seat “coalition” that is anything but a coalition.

If he sets up a minority government dependent on the mainly Arab Joint List, he is very likely to lose a number of MKs from his own faction. . . . In other words, if he acts on his tenuous majority, he loses it. Conversely, if he seeks a unity government with Likud, he is very likely to lose the Yesh Atid faction of his Blue and White alliance, reducing his political position to a junior partner to the de-facto victorious Likud.

He is in a pickle, and his only path to anything resembling a victory appears to be a unity government with Benjamin Netanyahu in which he, Gantz, goes first in rotation as prime minister. That would enable him—he hopes—to “sell” his new government to Yesh Atid’s leader Yair Lapid, a co-founder of Blue and White, as an election victory.

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Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Benny Gantz, Israeli democracy, Israeli politics, Knesset, Yair Lapid

Will Tensions Rise between the U.S. and Israel?

Unlike his past many predecessors, President Joe Biden does not have a plan for solving the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Moreover, his administration has indicated its skepticism about renewing the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. John Bolton nevertheless believes that there could be a collision between the new Benjamin Netanyahu-led Israeli government and the Biden White House:

In possibly his last term, Netanyahu’s top national-security priority will be ending, not simply managing, Iran’s threat. This is infinitely distant from Biden’s Iran policy, which venerates Barrack Obama’s inaugural address: “we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

Tehran’s fist is today otherwise occupied, pummeling its own people. Still, it will continue menacing Israel and America unless and until the internal resistance finds ways to fracture the senior levels of Iran’s regular military and the Revolutionary Guards. Netanyahu undoubtedly sees Iran’s growing domestic turmoil as an opportunity for regime change, which Israel and others can facilitate. Simultaneously, Jerusalem can be preparing its military and intelligence services to attack Tehran’s nuclear program, something the White House simply refuses to contemplate seriously. Biden’s obsession with reviving the disastrous 2015 nuclear deal utterly blinds the White House to the potential for a more significant victory.

To make matters worse, Biden has just created a Washington-based position at the State Department, a “special representative for Palestinian affairs,” that has already drawn criticism in Israel both for the new position itself and for the person named to fill it. Advocated as one more step toward “upgrading” U.S. relations with the Palestinian Authority, the new position looks nearly certain to become the locus not of advancing American interests regarding the failed Authority, but of advancing the Authority’s interests within the Biden administration.

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Read more at 19FortyFive

More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Iran, Joe Biden, U.S.-Israel relationship