Israel’s High Court won’t nix Gantz-Netanyahu deal: Gov’t on track to form next week

Israeli High Court President Esther Hayut

 

A national emergency government agreement is expected to be passed in Israel’s Knesset later today, after an expanded panel of 11 High Court judges yesterday rejected a series of petitions seeking to block Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu from forming a government due to the criminal charges against him, and to invalidate the coalition deal he signed on April 20 with Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz.

The decision by the judges, which was unanimous, puts the new government on track to be sworn in next Wednesday, May 13, ending an unprecedented 16-month period in which Israel has been without a fully functioning government, with three inconclusive elections in 11 months.

According to the agreement between Gantz and Netanyahu, the national emergency government, formed to take on the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic, would last for six months unless extended by mutual agreement. After the six months, a conventional national unity government would be formed, the substance of which would be subject to negotiation.

In green-lighting the Gantz-Netanyahu deal, the Court fell short of fully endorsing it, hinting that even after the agreement is passed, legislation required to fulfil some of the highly contentious terms of the deal could again be challenged by petitioners to the Court after it is passed into law.

Indeed, the Court openly questioned parameters of the original deal, including two self-imposed restrictions on emergency government that did not seem to have any connection to the crisis at hand: A freeze on all legislation non-related to the pandemic and a freeze in key appointments for the entire six-month period.

“What’s the connection between the coronavirus and appointing a police commissioner?” High Court President Esther Hayut reportedly challenged Netanyahu’s lawyers.

The High Court’s concerns did not fall on deaf ears. Throughout the week, negotiating teams from both the Likud and Blue and White have been working behind the scenes to modify and soften the parts of the deal that the Court has found most troubling. Under this backdrop, it appears unlikely the formation of a new government would be derailed by such efforts.

In a previous blog, I detailed some of the features of the original 14-page, 41-clause rotation agreement, which would see Netanyahu serve for the first half of a special three-year government term with Gantz granted a new title of “alternate prime minister”, and vice versa in the second half.

It remains unknown at this time just how extensive the changes will be, though that will presumably become clear by the time the agreement is brought to a Knesset vote later today.

Similarly, the composition of the next coalition has also yet to be finalized, with the right-wing Yamina party remaining hesitant to bring its six MKs into the government unless it is given an important ministry or two.

Yamina party leader and outgoing Defense Minister Naftali Bennett announced his desire for his party to take over the Health Ministry, which is being vacated at long last by scandal-tainted United Torah Judaism MK Ya’akov Litzman, who has asked to be given the Housing Ministry in the next government. However, the Blue and White party has also demanded the Health Ministry and the issue remains unresolved at this time.

Even without the Yamina party, the emerging Netanyahu-Gantz government would enjoy the comfortable support of 72 MKs in the 120-seat chamber, with government ministries evenly split between the centre-left and centre-right blocs.