The stated goal of Israel’s new coalition government, born after three exhausting and inconclusive election campaigns, was to deal with the mammoth economic and health crises created by the advent of coronavirus. However, the bad blood and mutual distrust formed during those election campaigns has persisted into the government and threatens to send Israel into the nightmare scenario of yet another election which nobody wants and which the country can ill afford.
The present impasse involves the clause in the coalition agreement calling for a two-year budget to be passed. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seeks to renege on this clause and to pass only a budget for the remainder of the current year, citing the uncertainty created by the coronavirus crisis, while Gantz is insisting on sticking to the two-year model.
Gantz and Blue-And-White suspect that Netanyahu is pushing for a one-year budget in order to bring down the government in a year’s time over next year’s budget, which would enable him to dissolve the government and go to new elections next year without Gantz automatically becoming prime minister as stipulated in the coalition agreement.
Whatever happens, Israel must have a budget by the 25th of August as if it is not passed then the Knesset automatically dissolves and elections will take place this year.
At the same time Netanyahu is under almost daily and unprecedented pressure from protests and demonstrations taking place both in Jerusalem and at other central spots around the country. The goal of these demonstrations, which have grown larger and more vociferous in recent weeks, is not just to find economic respite in the wake of the massive unemployment sparked by COVID-19, but rather to foment anarchy and lawlessness or just to behave loosely.
The demonstrators do not heed social distancing regulations, rarely wear masks and do not disperse until forced to by police. They spew a stream of invective against Netanyahu and his family, sometimes even threatening violence against him. Demonstrators hoist Israeli flags, blow loud horns and hold “Crime Minister” posters. However at the same time they engage in crude, vulgar and provocative behavior.
To his credit, Netanyahu remains unruffled by the demonstrations, realizing that they are politically motivated and do not stem from real economic despair, although many Israelis have reached that despair. Last week the prime minister termed them “the most unspontaneous spontaneous demonstrations which could be imagined” and his son tweeted that the demonstrators are “aliens”, infuriating them even more.
Yet the failure of the government in its attempts to combat both the coronavirus and the economic woes has cost both Netanyahu and Gantz a heavy political price. Both have slid down in the polls- Gantz being upended by Yair Lapid and Netanyahu being chased by the rising star of Naftali Bennett – but the ego issues and bad blood between the two leaders are the biggest threat to their fledgling government, more than all of the demonstrations and political opposition. It remains to be seen whether they can bury the hatchet by the 25th of August and prevent the most gratuitous elections in Israel’s history.