As over 600,000 Israelis marched in scores of cities throughout the country and in major world capitals, cracks began to form in the governing coalition. Facing near munity in the ranks of the IDF, defense minister Yoav Gallant called on Bibi Netanyahu to put a halt to the legislative steamroller being rammed through the Knesset. He did so in a dramatic national TV address, which was clearly intended as a shot across the prime minister’s bow.
Already, the ruling coalition passed a law legalizing five settlements Israel had promised George Bush would not be populated. It also passed a law removing the attorney general’s right to disqualify a prime minister convicted of a criminal offense. This will protect Netanyahu if he is convicted on any of the corruption charges he confronts in his current trial. As Opposition leader Benny Gantz said in a TV interview, there are dozens more pieces of legislation that will follow if the government continues this onslaught.
Regardless of Gallant’s political opinions about this agenda, as a former army general, he understands that Israel must have a cohesive fighting force. When there is munity within, the country cannot protect its citizens. Not to mention, that the IDF is most significant unifying institution in the country. It defines Israeli identity and most citizens serve in it. For many Israelis the army and the state are indistinguishable. For that reason, Gallant defines his allegiance to the state via the army. If the army is not with the government, then the latter cannot or should not function.
To clarify, I am defining Israeli reality as most Israelis see it, in the above paragraph, and not offering my own opinion, which is highly critical, as readers will know.
Two senior Likud MKs followed suit announcing support for Gallant. On the other side, a number of Netanyahu stalwarts denounced Gallant. Fascist firebrand, Itamar Ben Gvir, called for the PM to immediately fire him. I wouldn’t be surprised if tomorrow he calls for erecting a scaffold in Tel Aviv’s Kaplan Street and hanging Gallant by the neck till he is dead, as judges used to say in the old Hollywood westerns.
Netanyahu has two choices: he can accede to Gallant and declare a ceasefire. That would involve members of the governing coalition and opposition negotiating a compromise legislative agenda that would ensable some of the proposed “reforms,” while eliminating the most objectional ones. Even if he agreed to this option, these negotiations would have no guarantee of success, since the sides are so far apart.
Or Netanyahu can reject Gallant’s call and go full steam ahead, throwing in his lot with the radical elements of his coalition, the anti-democracy coup plotters, Yariv Levin and Simcha Rotman. As I wrote in a recent post, this will bring a confrontaton between the legisltiave and judicial branches of Israeli government. Until now, the Supreme Court has exerted limited powers compared to high courts in most democratic countries. But at least it could review legislation and declare it in violation of Israel’s quasi constitutional Basic Laws.
In that sense, the Court would take up the laws passed by the far-right governing coalition and likely strike down most, if not all of them. The legislative body really has very little recourse at that point. It cannot force the Court to arrive a different conclusion short of taking the justices out in the courtyard and offering them a choice between life or death. The Knesset has no enforcement provision that would enable it to override the Court. Thus, its edict will prevail.
It remains to be seen how the coup plotters will react. Perhaps after reading the decisions, they will water down or rephrase new proposed bills in the hope the justices will be willing to approve them. Since the Court is a right-wing institution, it remains possible that they will approve some of the current legislation; and improve even more if it is modified or recast.
That being said, the justices are political animals. Many, if not most of them understand which way the winds are blowing in the country. I doubt that they want to be the ones whose pictures are waved on banners amidst the throngs of protestors. They would prefer to compromise and approve just enough of the agenda, so as not to entirely antagonize the protest movement; without having to throw out the whole lot of the far-right agenda.
My guess is that Netanyahu, who is a master tactician who has outmanuveured many an opponent or rival, may use Gallant as a cudgel against his far-right mates and tell them that he has no choice but to compromise. The only thing the former cares about is his political survival. He doesn’t care about anyone, including his closest allies. If they stand in the way of his continuing in power, he would dump them in a heartbeat.
Further, in order to protect himself from prison, he must remain in power to pass legislation that will protect him. If the government falls, he will be politically naked. He needs a lifeline, and is pragmatic enough to understand this.
So far, things don’t look good. Netanyahu continues to offer a maximalist position. He refuses any compromise except on his terms. I don’t believe he can go on much longer like this. After Gallant, others will join in the chorus calling for a moratorium. Eventually a trickle will turn into a torrent.