It took three elections, two political parties, and one pandemic, but Israel has finally sworn in its new unity government. The year and a half standoff is over -- and a new chapter in cooperative leadership, with all of its twists and turns, has begun.
For Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, it will be his fifth term -- but by far the most intriguing. At the swearing in ceremony, the hallmarks of the global virus weren't the only thing that stood out. Apart from the social distancing and other precautions, the other difference was that two men -- once rivals -- now shared the same stage. "Because of the pandemic," Netanyahu insisted, "we have decided to set our differences aside and fight together shoulder to shoulder against this massive challenge."
The two men have worked together before -- a fact that should give the Israelis some comfort. But now, they will do so as the head of a massively expanded government. Chris Mitchell, CBN's Middle East bureau chief, pointed out on "Washington Watch" that this is a "record government in terms of size." "There are 36 ministers," he explained -- partly to satisfy both sides. "It's unwieldy," Chris agreed, "and they seem to be making [up] jobs for many of these ministers." But he, like most people in the region, will wait to see how the power sharing pans out.
And while there's almost no daylight between the two parties on defense, there are plenty of hot-button issues to watch out for in the coming days. "Perhaps the biggest inherent tension would be the whole idea of annexation. Benjamin Netanyahu wants to annex or declare sovereignty over 30 percent of what people know as the West Bank... And that's something that Benny Gantz and his Blue and White coalition would rather not see. One of the things that I thought about comes out of the book of Amos: How can two walk together unless they be agreed? And we'll just see how far they can walk together."
Then, of course, there are other sticking points, like the judiciary's power, which are only adding to the fragility of the relationship. Much like American conservatives, Netanyahu is very wary of the kind of activism that we see in the courts today. So when the new justice minister, a member of the center-Left Blue and White, says he's going to protect the judiciary, people will be very curious to know what, exactly, he means.
As for common ground, "I think across the board, [with the exception of the fringe Left], they agree on issues of Iran... They agree on issues of counterterrorism against Hamas, Palestinian Authority incitement, all of those." And by and large, Chris believes, every Israeli is just relieved not to have to go through another election. "They've gone over maybe 500 days since the beginning of this political crisis, and now they finally have a government. And I think the other thing that really unified and finally put Netanyahu and Gantz together was the coronavirus pandemic. People wanted them to address the national emergency over here. Right now, they have had over 16,000 cases, just more than 250 deaths. But they had 25 percent unemployment. So I think Israelis wanted the government to be able to handle this crisis, at least for the next six months or so."
As Netanyahu said, "The public wants a unity government, and this is what the public is getting." How well it works is a question only time can answer.