Israel’s rival factions have ended a deadlock by joining hands but challenges remain
Israel’s new unity government, which has ended a protracted (prolonged) political deadlock, after three inconclusive elections in a year, is likely to oversee worsening tensions with the Palestinians as annexation of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank is high on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s agenda. Mr. Netanyahu, Israel’s longest serving leader who just began his fourth consecutive term, has already initiated discussions on this plan. The man behind the revival of the political fortunes of Mr. Netanyahu, who has been indicted for corruption, was his one-time nemesis, Benny Gantz, leader of the centrist Blue and White party. The former Army Chief of Staff entered politics with the sole mission to oust the Likud party head from office and proposed legislation to set term limits for the premier. In his election campaigns and during difficult coalition (alliance) negotiations, Mr. Gantz was adamant that he would never work under a Prime Minister who faced criminal charges. He was even ready to join a unity government with Likud, provided that Mr. Netanyahu stepped aside. Ironically, the judicial trial into Mr. Netanyahu’s indictment for corruption, bribery (corruption) and breach of trust begins on May 24. The courts are also hearing challenges to his choice as Prime Minister, as Mr. Netanyahu could influence the nomination of judges and the prosecutor.
In a turn of events in late March, Mr. Gantz first petitioned the court against moves to stall the election of the new Speaker and, within 24 hours, nominated himself to the position; a step that led to the splintering (shatter) of the Blue and White. But the decision that has been described as his capitulation and a betrayal of his centre-left supporters is his failure to secure a veto on the annexation of the settlements on the West Bank in the coalition agreement. All other pieces of legislation except those relating to the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic and the occupied territory, require mutual consultation between the governing parties. An advocate of a united Jerusalem and not a vocal supporter of a two-state solution, it is doubtful if Mr. Gantz would block Mr. Netanyahu’s annexation (occupation) bid. And any move to annex West Bank territories, which the Palestinians see as part of their future state, could worsen an already fragile situation. As per the deal brokered in April, Mr. Netanyahu will serve as Prime Minister for the first 18 months and hand over the role to his erstwhile opponent for the remainder of the three-year term. This is, however, a potential grey area, given the uncertainty that would arise for the coalition from a judicial verdict against Mr. Netanyahu. If that happens, he could again play the victim, as when he accused investigating agencies after charges were framed against him. The months ahead will test the real strength of the unity government.