Netanyahu-Gantz Unity Deal: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly and the Ominous

Let’s start with the good news, for a change. If the coalition agreement signed by Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz on Monday night, a few minutes before the onset of Holocaust Remembrance Day, is ever implemented, Israel’s new government could theoretically be a vast improvement over its immediate predecessors.

Replacing the xenophobic, nationalist, Netanyahu-dominated ultra-right government that has ruled Israel for the past five years with a saner, power-sharing rational right or center-right coalition is nothing to be sneezed at. And, supposedly, it’s the bottom line that counts.

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On the face of it, at least, the envisaged change is dramatic. Netanyahu will no longer be flying solo. His every move, appointment, decision and policy will henceforth require the consent of his new co-pilot Gantz and his Kahol Lavan party. The cabinet and all other government forums will operate on the basis of strict parity, which could, of course, spell endless paralysis.

The Netanyahu-inspired constitutional revolution and usurpation of democracy that Israeli moderates feared will be shelved for the time being. The disproportionate influence hitherto exerted by the ultra-Orthodox parties and the settler lobby will be diminished. The new center of power, according to the coalition agreement, will reside with Gantz and Netanyahu alone: Their wishes, if they ever agree on anything, will be the new government’s command.

Important portfolios, including Defense, Foreign Affairs and Justice, will reside with Kahol Lavan for the duration of the existence of the new government, which is tentatively fixed at three years but may be extended by mutual consent. Foreign officials, especially European, who maintain regular contact with their Israeli counterparts, will undoubtedly be relieved to work once again with experienced center-right ministers rather than Netanyahu’s motley crew of zealots, hacks and has-beens.

If most of the world weren’t preoccupied with battling coronavirus, it would probably welcome the apparent shift in Israel’s general direction. Such hopes, nonetheless, might be misplaced, at least as far as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is concerned. With Gantz in the Defense Ministry and Gabi Ashkenazi in the Foreign Ministry, the new government might be more trigger-happy than those headed by the ever-cautious Netanyahu.