Israel: A team of bitter rivals takes charge
The coronavirus emergency has compelled Israel’s biggest political rivals to join forces in a unity government, said Mati Tuchfeld in Israel Hayom. After three elections in less than 12 months—each of which left the Knesset about evenly split between allies of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party and the center-right Blue and White party of Benny Gantz—the leaders of the two factions have finally come together in a grand bargain. Netanyahu will remain prime minister for the next 18 months, and then hand the post to Gantz, who will serve as speaker of the Knesset and possibly also foreign minister in the meantime. As speaker, Gantz will be able to control the legislative agenda—and to block any attempts by Netanyahu, who is facing trial on corruption charges, to grant himself immunity. When Gantz announced the deal, many in his party abandoned him in outrage, and he now commands only about half of the 33 Knesset seats that Blue and White won last month. But under the terms of his pact with Netanyahu, Gantz’s followers will head nearly all of the most important ministries in the new cabinet—including defense, justice, and finance. Both Netanyahu and Gantz have made huge sacrifices to create “what we need: a true emergency government.”
What a betrayal by Gantz, said Haaretz in an editorial. The former army chief promoted himself all year as an honorable alternative to the corrupt, anti-democratic Netanyahu, swearing that he would never serve with a man under criminal indictment for taking bribes. But he has now chosen “to degrade himself and to crawl into Netanyahu’s government.” That Gantz was elected Knesset speaker with Likud support but without the backing of his own disillusioned bloc “demonstrates the magnitude of the farce.” Gantz may yet regret his capitulation, said Ben Caspit in Al-Monitor.com. The deal provides for him to become prime minister in October 2021, but few believe that Bibi—a street-smart operator—will actually step aside. Remember, the “political corpses of the politicians who engaged Netanyahu in various agreements are strewn” across the annals of recent Israeli history.
What we desperately need is a leader who thinks about issues beyond how they affect his own political survival, said Yossi Yehoshua in Yedioth Ahronoth. The number of coronavirus cases is surging in Israel—there were some 5,000 cases and at least 19 deaths as of midweek—and the security apparatus should be tasked with handling this crisis like the war it is. After all, the Defense Ministry has decades of experience in requisitioning and deploying medical equipment such as ventilators at speed. But Netanyahu has repeatedly refused to transfer authority from the Health Ministry to the current defense minister, Naftali Bennett, and even ignored Bennett’s calls for early mass testing. The reason? Bennett is Netanyahu’s top rival on the right, and Bibi doesn’t want to give him the upper hand. Netanyahu has won “the political battle, but Israel might lose the coronavirus war.” ■