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Israel

A shaky coalition government going from crisis to crisis

A row over annexation last week, a parliamentary commission this week, and a budget next week threaten the fragile unity of Israel's administration

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Last week, the Israeli government almost fell because of the disagreement between Likud and Blue and White on the possible unilateral annexation of parts of the West Bank. The week ended without annexation and the government remained intact.

This week the government almost fell because Likud supported a motion to set up a parliamentary commission on conflicts of interest of Supreme Court judges. The motion failed to pass and the government didn’t fall.

Next week, another massive crisis is expected over Benjamin Netanyahu’s attempt to renege on his promise to Benny Gantz to pass a two-year budget. Without a new budget, the government will fall, but a budget will almost certainly finally pass and crisis will be averted. For a week.

Fifty days have passed since Netanyahu was sworn in, and barely a week has gone by without its crisis.

This was to be an “emergency national-unity” government with a special “reconciliation cabinet,” which according to the coalition guidelines “will act in a fundamental way to bridge between the parts of the nation and act in the spirit of national reconciliation .” Members of the reconciliation cabinet have yet to agreed upon and appointed. This may well be grounds for another crisis.

The seeds of discord were sown long before the ministers were sworn in. The expectations that Blue and White — which had fought for 14 months to replace Mr Netanyahu, claiming that the very idea of serving under a prime minister facing criminal indictments was abhorrent — would be capable of working with him harmoniously in government were low to begin with.

From Likud’s perspective, agreeing to a deal with Mr Gantz, now the leader of a medium-sized party, plummeting in the polls, was even less likely. For the next year and a half, they have to work with him and his colleagues in government. But their aim is that during this time the “alternate prime minister and defence minister” will not be allowed to look statesman-like enough to assume the top job in September 2021.

This week’s crisis was a case in point. Likud had agreed that it would not support any laws that were vetoed by Blue and White (with the exception of annexation). Therefore, the proposal by a member of Yamina, the right-wing party now in opposition, to appoint a commission investigating the judges, was a provocation to Blue and White, which is committed to protecting the Supreme Court.

But Mr Netanyahu, now facing his own trial in court, has been busy rallying his supporters in an anti-judges frenzy, and opposing the commission would be “going against the base.”

Hours before the vote, Likud decided that the coalition agreement gave Blue and White a veto on legislation, not on forming commissions, and announced it would be voting in favour.

Blue and White’s ministers angrily retorted that it was a “black flag” issue, in other words, grounds for bringing down the government.

Likud didn’t back down, but 13 MKs were conspicuously absent, ensuring the motion failed. Mr Gantz was humiliated but didn’t have a strong enough reason to pull out. Not that he wants to, with his situation in the polls. Meanwhile, the government which was formed to fight the pandemic will continue mainly fighting itself, week in, week out.

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