Nahum Barnea
Nahum Barnea
Photo: Dana Kopel
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Knesset during the failed vote to extend the budget deadline on Monday

A miserable government has left Israel without a pandemic plan

Analysis: Netanyahu's term at the head of the outgoing government was mired by his personal, legal and political considerations that overshadowed public interests as Israel battled the coronavirus without a national budget

Nahum Barnea |
Published: 12.26.20 , 13:42
The worst government in Israel's history drew its last breath on Tuesday at midnight. Even so, no one rejoiced in its demise and none have high hopes for its successor.
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  • Those 800,000 unemployed Israelis were not there to hear the eulogy. Nor were the owners of collapsed businesses and broken dreams, the students left to fester at home, the elderly cut off from their families and the non-profits whose social aid has had to stop due to a lack of state funding.
    נתניהו יורד מהדוכןנתניהו יורד מהדוכן
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Knesset during the failed vote to extend the budget deadline on Monday
    (Photo: The Knesset)
    There has never been a greater disconnect between the public's needs and elected officials' agendas.
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu frequently praises Israel's handling of the coronavirus pandemic in comparison to other nations. He cherry picks data that aligns with his claims - and when there is none, he just makes it up.
    But there is one variable he routinely ignores: Israel is the only country battling the pandemic without a valid state budget.
    Israel is incapable of properly dealing with the economic damage caused by the pandemic or of formulating a strategy for the day after.
    מליאת הכנסתמליאת הכנסת
    The Knesset fails to pass a bill extending the budget deadline on Monday
    (Photo: The Knesset channel)
    The 2020 and 2021 state budgets were put on ice to provide Netanyahu the opportunities to avoid a handover of power to Blue & White leader Benny Gantz, as stipulated by the coalition agreement he himself signed.
    Instead of serving the public and fund social assistance, he fundraised from supporters to pay for his legal battles.
    Netanyahu did have some achievements. The relationship he cultivated with outgoing U.S. President Donald Trump led to normalization agreements with Bahrain, the UAE, Sudan and Morocco. These are important and substantial diplomatic wins.
    But personal, legal and political considerations beat the public needs when it came to his handling of the coronavirus crisis and its economic fallout.
    If the state comptroller ever decides to investigate how decisions were made during the pandemic, they will have their work cut out for them.
    Israel is not a monarchy. Its governance stems from coalitions of multiple political parties elected by its citizens, sharing power and functioning on a basis of mutual trust.
    But governments cannot function when one person's personal issues dictate national policies.
    Israelis have already gone to the polls three times because of Netanyahu's corruption trial, and are now heading to a fourth one for the same reason.
    נתניהו באולם בית המשפטנתניהו באולם בית המשפט
    Prime Minister Netanyahu and his legal team in court at the beginning of his corruption trial
    (Photo: Amit Shabi)
    This situation is not only absurd and perverse but threatens the public's basic trust in the democratic system.
    Israelis will have to live with this government's failures for years to come.
    The lies, the incitement and the violation of signed agreements, along with the violent discourse on social media – including from the speaker of the Knesset himself - did not start with this outgoing government. But in its formation, the coalition claimed to end the belligerent tone - and that was just one more broken promise.
    With the dissolution of the 23rd Knesset, the troubled partnership between Likud and Blue & White finally ended.
    The latter will likely not win enough votes to return to the Knesset for another term. The Labor Party is not expected to make it either and both parties will fade away into oblivion.
    The field is ripe for new alliances. The lines between left and right have blurred. While most Israelis consider themselves right-wing, many of them do not know what that means, nor do they care. They follow a brand and not an ideology.
    Netanyahu's challengers, Yamina leader Naftali Bennett and former Likud MK Gideon Sa'ar prefer to campaign on Netanyahu's leadership failures and on the proper management of the pandemic, not on ideology or the future of the West Bank.
    גדעון סער על מצב הקורונה בישראלגדעון סער על מצב הקורונה בישראל
    Gideon Sa'ar announces his new political party to challenge Prime Minister Netanyahu's leadership
    (Photo: Amit Shabi)
    And after the elections they will face the same dilemma others have faced before them. Netanyahu will dangle dazzling offers before them, if they would just agree to join his government. After all, they all represent the same ideological camp, right?
    But Bennett and Sa'ar will probably be wiser than their predecessors. They know agreements with Netanyahu will not be honored and promises will be broken.
    But who will they ally themselves with? The dying left-wing? The often-reviled Arab factions?
    There is no path to a government that does not include Benjamin Netanyahu or Arab parties.
    If you believe any campaign that claims otherwise, I have a bridge to sell you.
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