Daily Briefing: Israel Set to Sign In Unity Government on May 13th (MAY 11,2020)

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View of the Supreme Court Building, with the Knesset building visible in the background (Wikipedia)

Table of Contents:

Supreme Court Validates Netanyahu Government Weeks after Attempted Putsch:  Alex Traiman, JNS, May 7, 2020


Israel’s New ‘Unity’ Government Is Neither United nor Likely To Govern Well:  Haviv Rettig Gur, Times of Israel, Apr. 21, 2020


Pompeo to Discuss Annexation, Iran, China with Israel’s New Government:  Ben Caspit, Al-Monitor, May 8, 2020


‘For Israel to Give up Hebron and Beit El is like the US Giving up the Statue of Liberty’:  Ariel Kahana, May 8, 2020

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Supreme Court Validates Netanyahu Government Weeks after Attempted Putsch
Alex Traiman
JNS, May 7, 2020

On Wednesday, Israel’s Supreme Court unanimously rejected eight separate petitions filed against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the coalition agreement he signed with former challenger Benny Gantz. The ruling paves the way to the immediate formation of a parliamentary majority coalition for the first time in a year-and-a-half-long battle consisting of three consecutive national elections.

The court ruled that Netanyahu may form a new coalition regardless of the indictments filed against him by the attorney general. Supreme Court President Esther Hayut wrote in her ruling that the court “did not find any legal reason to prevent Knesset member Netanyahu from forming a government,” adding that “the legal conclusion we reached does not diminish the gravity of the pending charges against MK Netanyahu for violations of moral integrity, or the difficulties deriving from a prime minister serving when charged with criminal activity.”

The ruling on Netanyahu’s fitness to serve was completely redundant, as Israeli law already explicitly permits a prime minister to continue to serve if indicted, and even if convicted, until all appeals processes have been exhausted. Moreover, Israeli citizens have voted for Netanyahu in large numbers on three consecutive occasions despite full knowledge of the indictments.

Just prior to the ruling, Gadi Taub, a senior lecturer at the School of Public Policy and the Department of Communications at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, told JNS that in “agreeing to adjudicate this issue in the first place, the court is behaving as if it feels it needs to protect democracy from citizens,” and called the court hearing an “amazing feat of audacity.”

Somewhat surprisingly, however, the court simultaneously ruled that it would not invalidate the irregular and legally unprecedented terms of the Netanyahu-Gantz agreement. In addition to limits on appointments and general parliamentary legislation, Gantz will begin the term as a newly created vice prime minister, who lives in a state-sponsored residence and has nearly the same authorities as the prime minister, including veto power over legislation.

In a unique rotation arrangement, Gantz will assume the premiership midway through the coalition’s shortened three-year term. Once Gantz takes over as prime minister, Netanyahu becomes vice prime minister, and maintains the same legal protections as a prime minister. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
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Israel’s New ‘Unity’ Government Is Neither United nor Likely to Govern Well
Haviv Rettig Gur
Times of Israel, Apr. 21, 2020

Israel’s 35th Government began to come into focus on Monday with the signing of a coalition agreement between Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz. And what a strange government it is.
In that it avoids a fourth consecutive election in the midst of a coronavirus pandemic, it may be a laudable achievement. But scratch the surface of the 14-page agreement and one finds that the “unity” government being celebrated by the two leaders is a bloated, bifurcated regime shaped by the deep distrust upon which it was built. So much about the accord is unprecedented that it is best to simply set the term aside and just take things as they come. The agreement sets the government’s lifespan at 36 months, and divides it into two parts: a six-month “emergency period” and a longer “unity period” to follow.

During the emergency period, which Gantz and Netanyahu can extend in three-month increments by mutual agreement, no legislation can be advanced that doesn’t either contend with the coronavirus emergency or is approved by both men. That is, for the duration of the emergency period, each has a veto on legislative initiatives. There is one exception: annexation of parts of the West Bank, which Netanyahu is free to try to advance from July 1.

Blocs

“The government will be a two-bloc government,” declares Article 2. And it isn’t kidding. The government’s fundamental structure is shaped by the two alliances led by Netanyahu and Gantz, the “Likud bloc” and the “Blue and White bloc.”
This is no simple matter of optics. Gantz and Netanyahu are each granted enormous power over their “blocs.” Each can fire a minister from his bloc, a power usually reserved for the prime minister alone. And neither — even if they happen to be a prime minister — can fire a minister from the other’s bloc.

Similarly, to move an agency or some legal power from the hands of one ministry to another would normally require the approval of the prime minister. No longer: it is now the head of the relevant bloc who must approve the move. Whatever branch of government is granted to the “Likud bloc” under the agreement becomes Likud’s fiefdom, and the same for Blue and White.

The government’s most basic structures, its most powerful committees — such as the security cabinet, which has the power to declare war, or the ministerial legislation committee — are divided between the blocs, with each bloc holding an equal number of members.

What little mention is made of specific policy priorities is also splintered along those lines. The right’s most prominent achievement — the coveted go-ahead for an annexation of some unspecified portion of the West Bank — is also the only item on the new government’s agenda that Blue and White isn’t required to support.

Meanwhile, Gantz won nearly everything he needed in his bid to show that he was fulfilling his vow to “defend democracy” and liberal values. Likud was disarmed of the three ministries from which it led its culture war against the left: justice, communications and culture. Former speaker Yuli Edelstein, who defied a direct High Court order to convene a plenum vote on his successor (arguing it was an illegal imposition of the court’s will on the legislature) won’t return to the speaker’s chair. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
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Pompeo to Discuss Annexation, Iran, China with Israel’s New Government
Ben Caspit
Al-Monitor, May 8, 2020

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will visit Israel May 13, the day the country’s two-headed unity government scheduled to be sworn in. The formation of Israel’s 35th government is supposed to end the political crisis that has plagued Israeli politics for the past year and a half. Pompeo’s visit comes about 500 days after the demise of Israel’s last elected government and on the cusp of a newly elected one.

Three rounds of inconclusive elections over the past year failed to break the political deadlock. The last-minute agreement on a unity government comprising the Likud Party and its election challenger, the Blue and White Party staved off deterioration into a fourth round of elections that could have also exacerbated the pandemic-induced economic downturn and further fueled the battle between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the country’s legal and law enforcement authorities.

Pompeo will obviously be spared the 14-day quarantine the Health Ministry requires of all those arriving in Israel. Instead, he will meet with Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, the putative co-prime ministers set to be sworn in under the deal they forged that changes Israel’s system of government. Pompeo is also likely to meet an old friend from his days as CIA director, Mossad chief Yossi Cohen.

According to diplomatic sources, Pompeo’s quick visit has several agenda items. They include coordinating positions ahead of Israel’s expected unilateral annexation of West Bank settlements allowed by President Donald Trump’s peace plan, allaying Israeli concerns over a possible easing of US sanctions on Iran, exchanging information regarding Israel’s campaign against Iran’s presence in Syria and probably expressing US displeasure over massive Chinese investments in Israel. The US concern over China’s involvement in Israel has to do with the planned construction of the Middle East’s largest desalination plant on Israel’s Mediterranean coast by a major Chinese group that won the bid for the project. The Americans are continuing to warn Israel about the growing Chinese involvement in major infrastructure projects and senior Israeli officials say the issue is overshadowing the flourishing US-Israel ties, especially against the backdrop of increased US-China tensions over the novel coronavirus crisis.

Pompeo’s meeting with Cohen will likely focus on the situation in Iran, continued US sanctions and the results of Israel’s ongoing campaign to dislodge Iran from Syria. Cohen is in regular touch with Pompeo to ensure that the Americans do not ease their sanctions regime despite the health crisis that is exacerbating Iran’s economic woes and the regime’s hold on power. Israel is also worried about the United States having given the newly constituted Iraqi government a grace period, allowing it to import energy from Iran. Pompeo will probably assure Israel that the Trump administration does not intend to change its maximum-power campaign against Iran.

Pompeo will report to Washington on the emerging political situation in Israel, unprecedented in the state’s 72-year history and perhaps in modern Western politics. The Americans are used to dealing directly with Netanyahu, who has held the reins of power in recent years and made most decisions on his own. They will now have to adapt to dealing with two prime ministers who enjoy equal rights and power, with each holding veto power over the other. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
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For Israel to Give up Hebron and Beit El is like the US Giving up the Statue of Liberty’
Ariel Kahana
Israel Hayom, May 8, 2020

The interview with US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman was not held at the US Embassy in Jerusalem, despite the fact that he recently inducted a stunning new office in the embassy complex. Given the pandemic circumstances clouding the interview, the meeting took place in the car park at the ambassador’s home in Herzliya, among security gates and diplomatic vehicles. A rather unusual background for an interview marking two years to the historic relocation of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
At this point in time, it is also safe to say that Friedman’s ambassadorship will be equally historical. His first year in office, 2017, was dedicated to pushing US recognition in Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. In 2018, he followed that with efforts to see the US recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, and 2019-2020 have been dedicated to pushing the Trump administration’s vision of peace for the Middle East.

Many minds had to be put at ease along the way, and many myths and prejudices had to be debunked, but at the end of the day, he has done everything he can. The ball is now in Israel’s court.
The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee former Vice President Joe Biden, I remind him, said this week that if elected, he would not reverse the embassy’s relocation to Jerusalem. Does that mean it will stay there forever? Friedman said he hopes so, “but in my view of Jewish history, nothing can be taken for granted.”

“One thing that I really get satisfaction from is the reaction from ordinary people that cared about this for so many years, and never thought it would happen. Especially, what really has given me a great sense of achievement is when I talk to Holocaust survivors. They look at this and say this is such an act of kindness, loyalty, and support and [they] are so glad we lived to see it.”

Q: Looking back over the past two years, what did the US gain from moving the embassy to Jerusalem?

“First, we don’t look at things that way. We don’t think everything in life is transactional, we tend to do things because they’re the right thing – because you agreed to do it, you promised to do it. When you keep your promise, I think those are all benefits in and of themselves. I think that in addition to those things, the move of the embassy [to Jerusalem] established President Trump as being someone who keeps promises, someone who doesn’t flinch from standing with his allies, who doesn’t fear enemies, who doesn’t fear negative commentary: He’s prepared to do what he thinks is right. I think that image of the president, has been helpful to the president and the country in terms of moving forward with our foreign policy in other places as well.” … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
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For Further Reference:

Yamina: We’re Headed for the Opposition:  Arutz Sheva, May 10, 2020 — The Yamina party issued a formal announcement this morning stating that it was headed for the opposition in the upcoming term and would not be a partner in the government sworn in on Wednesday.

WATCH: Israel is Building in the Heartland of Judea!:  United With Israel, May 7, 2020 — Defense Minister Bennett announced the approval of 7,000 new housing units in the town of Efrat in the heartland of Judea.

Scoop: Senators Back Away From Threatening Israel With End Of Bipartisan Support Melissa Weiss, Jewish Insider, May 10, 2020 — Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Chris Murphy (D-CT) are now pushing a revised, watered-down letter to Senate offices after circulating an initial draft — obtained by JI and published below — warning that annexation of the West Bank would end bipartisan support for Israel.

Scales of Israeli Justice Ruthie Blum, JNS, May 5, 2020 — Israel’s High Court of Justice just spent two full days hearing petitions against the continued rule of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the national-unity deal that he signed last month with Blue and White Party leader Benny Gantz.