Ten days ago, Israel’s two major political parties seemed on the verge of forming a unity government. Then negotiations stalled, and the time allotted to the opposition leader Benny Gantz—whom President Reuven Rivlin had tapped to form a coalition—expired. Now all the parties have until May 7 to form a majority coalition. If no coalition emerges, the Knesset will automatically dissolve and yet another election, the fourth in less than two years, will be scheduled. Haviv Rettig Gur analyzes the situation:
As Wednesday’s deadline [for Gantz to form a government] came and went, it became clearer than ever that the original reasoning for the unity negotiations—the coronavirus pandemic—no longer drives the talks.
In an important sense, that’s very good news. At the moment, at least, both [the incumbent prime minister] Benjamin Netanyahu and Gantz believe that the relevant government agencies are competently managing the crisis—and crucially, that their voters also think so. They therefore have the time and political space to fight over less immediate but no less important matters, from the fate of the West Bank to the powers of Israel’s highest court.
Indeed, Netanyahu has grown so comfortable and confident that he will continue to be seen as a successful steward of the crisis, that the last two days of talks on Tuesday and Wednesday veered away even from these matters of high policy to more finicky questions of Netanyahu’s legal position in eighteen months, when, [according to a putative coalition agreement, his term as prime minister will end and Gantz’s will begin].
In a sense, that was the essence of Gantz’s bargain with Netanyahu from the start: granting Netanyahu immunity from prosecution in exchange for a generous raft of ministerial posts and outsize influence over major policy decisions in the next government. But Gantz still wants to avoid being seen as protecting Netanyahu too much, even if he believes it’s a price worth paying to protect the high court and the legal system from a raft of conservative reforms.