Netanyahu and Gantz close to coalition deal

What happened: Negotiations between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud and Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party are close to finalising a deal to form a government. The coalition is likely to include 78 Knesset members (out of 120), with up to 36 Government ministers.

  • According to reports, the government will seek to achieve ministerial “parity” between Netanyahu’s entire rightwing bloc and Benny Gantz’s allies. Gantz is expected to become Defence minister and secure a commitment from Netanyahu that he will resign as prime minister in September 2021.
  • Several ministries are expected to be split in order to provide enough positions for all the key politicians in the coalition parties. A number of senior politicians are also likely to be appointed as Ambassador’s overseas. Among the final outstanding decisions are the appointment of the Internal Security Minister (responsible for the police) and the Knesset speaker – both of whom will be taken by Likud.
  • Labour party leader Amir Peretz and MK Itzik Shmuli are also considering joining the Netanyahu-Gantz government, despite explicit promises not to serve under Netanyahu. The party’s third MK, Merav Michaeli, has vowed to fight the move, setting up the possibility of a further split inside the party.
  • Gantz and former IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi will retain the Blue and White party name. Their former political partners, Yair Lapid and Moshe Yaalon, reverted back to their original parties – Yesh Atid and Telem.
  • Two right wing MKs from the Blue and White party – Yoaz Hendel and Zvi Hauser – split from Yaalon’s Telem and will join the government with Gantz in a new “Derech Eretz” faction.

Context: Benny Gantz decided last Thursday to stand as a candidate for Knesset speaker in a bid to maintain talks with Netanyahu about forming a national unity Government.

  • The decision caused Blue and White to split and destroyed the anti-Netanyahu opposition. Gantz cited the coronavirus crisis and the need to heal divisions within Israeli society as the main reason for his move.
  • The prime ministerial rotation agreement between Netanyahu and Gantz, with each serving for 18 months, is expected to be guaranteed in a new law.
  • Nevertheless, Gantz’s faction will only number 15 MKs out of 78 MKs in the governing coalition.
  • Rumblings of dissatisfaction have already begun amongst some of Netanyahu’s right wing allies regarding ministerial posts, with many Likud leaders promised senior positions.
  • The opposition Yesh Atid have criticised Netanyahu and Gantz for forming a government with so many ministries, increasing the state budget, during a period of severe economic strain due to the global pandemic.

Looking ahead: The coalition agreement between Netanyahu and Gantz is yet to be finalised. While Netanyahu seems intent on closing a deal, Gantz has little leverage to improve his position and insist that controversial politicians are not appointed to sensitive posts (like Internal Security and Knesset speaker). A coalition agreement is expected to be agreed within days.

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