UPDATED: May 14, 2020. After some of his Likud Party members said they would boycott the swearing in of his new government, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu postponed the ceremony until May 17.
Exactly 72 years by the Gregorian calendar since Israel declared its independence, a permanent government is expected to be sworn in Thursday, May 14. This comes after nearly 1 ½ years of a temporary government under a caretaker prime minister limped along from one election to another. A revolving door of ministers took turns filling the cabinet, with the only constant being Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
A clear majority of Israelis polled in a monthly survey in early May by the Israel Democracy Institute said they prefer the coalition government led by Netanyahu’s Likud party and the Blue and White party over returning to the polls for a fourth time. The breakdown, according to the Israeli Voice Index survey conducted by the IDI’s Guttman Center for Public Opinion and Policy Research, was 63 percent of Jewish Israelis and 24 percent of Arab Israelis. Compared to the overall 57 percent of Israelis preferring not to go to elections, 27 percent said they wanted to vote again.
In the final days before the swearing in ceremony, it was evident that the new government will be the largest in history, with more than 50 ministers and deputy ministers on board. That’s a significant percentage of the 120-member Knesset.
What was not clear in the final days before the swearing in was exactly which parties will sign on to the coalition. Right-wing party Yamina was still saying it would not join the government. Two of its leaders, Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, previously worked for Netanyahu and there’s no love lost between them. Some observers stated that Yamina would not have received the ministries it wanted to head, given the extreme competition for ministries under the new government.
Under the agreement between Netanyahu and Blue and White party head Benny Gantz – his former challenger – Gantz is to become the defense minister. Bennett has filled that prestigious position for the last six months.
Blue and White party members are, in fact, taking many of the top ministries in the new government. In the most recent government, members of the Likud party filled 15 roles in the various ministries. Under the unity government, there are not enough ministries to spread among those Likud members as well as members of the other coalition parties, including Labor and the various religious parties.
Thus, Netanyahu’s biggest challenge in the final week of his caretaker government was how to at least partially satisfy his party allies. He has other options besides naming them to cabinet positions. One of his Likud party cohorts will become speaker of the Knesset. Others can be named ambassadors to the United Nations or to prestigious countries such as France or England. Certainly, though, he won’t be able to appease everyone.
Whichever politicians fill the leadership of the new government, after three inconclusive, frustrating elections, Israeli voters who have recently been set free from isolation in their homes during the pandemic, are doubly relieved they won’t be heading to voting booths any time soon.