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Bibi, Benny hammer out bizarre unity government agreement; Not everyone happy

Israel is finally forming a government after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his chief rival Benny Gantz signed a deal for a unity government that ends a year and a half of a political stalemate and puts to rest fears of a fourth election in just over a year.

Netanyahu will remain prime minister for another 18 months and Gantz will take over in October 2021. Gantz will serve in the interim as defense minister and as vice prime minister.

But no Israeli in their right actually believes that Prime Netanyahu plans on actually giving Benny Gantz the keys to the Prime Minister’s Office—ever­­—not the least of which in Benny Gantz himself. That has led to a very complicated agreement.

The first big controversy is the bloated parliament will include 32 ministers which will swell to 36 after the first stage making it the largest government ever in Israel’s history. Each ministry costs about 6.5 million shekels (about 1.8 Million dollar) a year. That doesn’t include the 20 or so deputy ministers.  That is a waste of about $15,000,000 a year, which could instead be used, for example, to feed our 45,000 (out of 190,000) Holocaust survivors that live in poverty.

Under the agreement, Netanyahu — who has been indicted on bribery, fraud and breach of trust charges — will be able to veto the appointments of the attorney general and state prosecutor. His trial is set to begin on May 24. And if the Israel’s Supreme Court rules that Netanyahu cannot form a coalition due to these indictments, the Knesset will dissolve and go to new elections, according to the agreement, rather than allow Gantz to simply take over earlier than planned.

Gantz said he would not sit in a government led by a prime minister facing criminal charges, he is now using the coronavirus pandemic as the reason he backtracked on his campaign promise to forge an agreement (and become prime minister as well). I might have believed that if not for all the safeguards that Gantz to make sure history remembers that he was a Prime Minister.

1. He will be sworn in, not in 18 months, but with Netanyahu, as Prime Minister.

2. He will enjoy all of the perks of being prime minister, while he is waiting his turn to serve.

3. They will both have official residences and security details during the entire 36-month term—another pricey perk.

If your real concern was the country, and not the fact that you were set to lose in fourth election, with the country rallying behind Bibi in the midst of the Corona crisis, the petty side deals would not be your concern.

“We have prevented a fourth election. We will protect democracy. We will fight coronavirus and care for all of Israel’s citizens,” Gantz said, at which 90% of Israel wondered, “eh, was our democracy at risk?”

The agreement is also a victory for the ultra-Orthodox parties as it gives the cabinet, rather than the Knesset, the power to determine army conscription of ultra-Orthodox males — something they staunchly oppose. Both the current ministers of Interior and Health (Arye Deri and Yakov Litzman) will maintain their posts, which are positions coveted by the Haredi factions.

The agreement calls for a July 1 vote on annexing parts of the West Bank, a part of U.S. President Donald Trump’s peace plan, which will likely pass.

The agreement drew fire from Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Lieberman, who is a secular right-winger who has refused to serve again in any government with either ultra-Orthodox or Arab parties.

“I welcome the establishment of the government, although it is not a unity government,” Lieberman said. “This is another government of Netanyahu and the [Ultra-Orthdox] bloc with a fig leaf from two senior [IDF officers]” Gantz and Gabi Ashkenazi, both former army chiefs. 

His party will be in the opposition along with Yair Lapid who broke from Gantz’s Blue and White party and Joint List leader Ayman Odeh, comprised of three Arab parties.

“Gantz and Netanyahu’s government of surrender is a slap in the face of the civilian majority who goes to the polls time and time again to oust Netanyahu,” said Odeh, who backed Gantz in his failed effort to form the government. “Gantz was not courageous enough to triumph and chose to legitimize annexation, racism, and corruption.”

The coalition is likely to number 72 Knesset members comprised of Netanyahu’s bloc of Likud, with 36 seats; Shas with 9, United Torah Judaism with 7 and Orly Levy-Abekasis’s 1, for 53 Knesset members. Gantz’s bloc is comprised of Blue and White with 15, Derech Eretz’s with two and Labor’s two, for a total of 19.

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Shalom from Israel! I am Ron Cantor and this is my blog. I serve as the President of Shelanu TV.

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