The Coronavirus Crisis Fades from Center Stage as Israel’s Political Impasse Continues

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.

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Benny Gantz, Coronavirus, Israeli Election 2020, Israeli politics

Hamas’s Hostage Diplomacy

Ron Ben-Yishai explains Hamas’s current calculations:

Strategically speaking, Hamas is hoping to add more and more days to the pause currently in effect, setting a new reality in stone, one which will convince the United States to get Israel to end the war. At the same time, they still have most of the hostages hidden in every underground crevice they could find, and hope to exchange those with as many Hamas and Islamic Jihad prisoners currently in Israeli prisons, planning on “revitalizing” their terrorist inclinations to even the odds against the seemingly unstoppable Israeli war machine.

Chances are that if pressured to do so by Qatar and Egypt, they will release men over 60 with the same “three-for-one” deal they’ve had in place so far, but when Israeli soldiers are all they have left to exchange, they are unlikely to extend the arrangement, instead insisting that for every IDF soldier released, thousands of their people would be set free.

In one of his last speeches prior to October 7, the Gaza-based Hamas chief Yahya Sinwar said, “remember the number one, one, one, one.” While he did not elaborate, it is believed he meant he wants 1,111 Hamas terrorists held in Israel released for every Israeli soldier, and those words came out of his mouth before he could even believe he would be able to abduct Israelis in the hundreds. This added leverage is likely to get him to aim for the release for all prisoners from Israeli facilities, not just some or even most.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, Israeli Security