Unity Agreement Blows Up Over Judicial Appointments

israel unity government
A combination image of Blue and White Party leader Benny Gantz (L) and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. (Reuters/Corinna Kern, Amir Cohen/File)

Amid media reports that the signing of a coalition agreement was imminent, talks between Likud and Blue and White blew apart on Monday evening over the issue of judicial appointments.

“After reaching understandings on all issues, the Likud party asked to re-open discussions regarding the committee to appoint judges. In light of this, negotiations have been halted. We will not allow any change in the functioning of the judiciary nor damages to the democracy,” Blue and White said in a statement.

Negotiators for the two sides had reportedly overcome issues of annexation in Yehudah and Shomron, ministerial portfolios and judicial appointments; and a draft coalition agreement awaited signatures, possibly as early as Monday night.

Although media reports have been saying that annexation was the main impediment to an agreement, on Monday morning it emerged that control of the Justice Ministry and selection of judges might in the end prove an even more formidable obstacle.

PM Netanyahu’s coalition partner Yamina warned that if the Justice Ministry were to be handed over to Gantz, even in exchange for concessions on annexation, it would be disastrous for the right-wing bloc.

Yamina MK Ayelet Shaked, a former Justice Minister, declared that ‘the meaning of handing over the Justice Ministry to the left is withdrawing control over the committee for appointing judges.

“In the upcoming term, at least four justices will be appointed to the High Court. This is a historic opportunity to formulate a conservative majority,” Shaked said.

But apparently, Blue and White was determined to hold Likud to understandings that its MK Avi Nissenkorn would be the next Justice Minister.

A Yamina party official told The Times of Israel that it is preparing for the real possibility that it will sit in the opposition if Netanyahu “relinquishes” the right’s control over the justice system. “He is kicking us in the opposition.”

The deal says that the government will promote annexations in the region within two and a half months, hailed as a victory for the right wing, and condemned as a “sell-out’ by Blue and White leader Benny Gantz of his former center-left partners.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who goes first in the prime ministerial rotation, will have to “consult” with Gantz before going ahead with any annexation, but does not empower him to block it, according to a report on Walla.

“This means that Netanyahu can bring an annexation order to the Knesset and the government for approval even if Gantz does not agree.” Nor would lacking Blue and White votes necessarily impede Knesset passage, since Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu would probably vote for it.

Regarding appointments, Gantz won out, securing 15 ministerial posts for his party, giving it parity with Likud, which will not go down well with senior Likud officials who will be asked to step aside for the sake of unity. The number of ministers will expand from 30 to 34 once the coronavirus crisis has passed.

Blue and White Party will have its pick of either the Foreign Ministry or the Education Ministry and will receive half of the 30 ministerial positions.

Likud MK Yuli Edelstein will not return to the position of Knesset Speaker. Gantz currently holds that position, and it was unclear who would replace him.

But with the end of the year-long political impasse almost behind them and annexation nearly in their grasp, Likud officials told Arutz Sheva it’s a “big victory for Likud.”

Netanyahu called Yesha Council Chairman David Elhayani on Monday to update him on the emerging deal.

Elhayani said, following the call: “I thank the prime minister who called and made it clear that he would not allow the opportunity for sovereignty to pass and I trust that he is determined to advance the issue in the coming months,” he was quoted by Arutz Sheva as saying.

“If true, this means that Gantz caved big-time,” tweeted Channel 13’s star reporter Barak Ravid, after Gantz had all along insisted that he would not support annexation without coordinating with the international community.

Meretz leader Nitzan Horovitz denounced it as an “annexation and corruption government.”

“Gantz has fallen to a new low and sold out all his values. In exchange for a handful of sweetheart appointments, Gantz will enter a government under a premier with three indictments and will cave on annexation demands. The generations cry out. Gantz and [Labor head] Amir Peretz are aligning with [Bezalel] Smotrich and [Naftali] Bennett and dealing a fatal blow to the Zionist vision and the opportunity to split into two states,” he said.

Ayman Odeh, the head of the Joint Arab List, said that Gantz “giving in on annexation is the most severe [disappointment] yet.

“This means killing any chance at peace and the cementing of an apartheid state with Jewish citizens and Palestinian subjects,” he said in a statement.


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