APN COVID Report #4: How much is the new unity government actually about COVID-19?

On Monday, April 20 Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signed an agreement with Blue and White party chairman Benny Gantz to form a unity government. Official talks on forming this government began just under a month before this agreement was signed, with the supposed intention that this was an emergency government to deal with COVID-19.

This then begs the question of how central COVID-19 has actually been in forming the deal and how important it would be as an agenda item for the proposed government.

Gantz, for the past three elections, has marketed himself as one thing above all else – the anti-Netanyahu choice. According to Gantz, he has decided to abandon his principle of not coalescing with Netanyahu because of the Corona crisis. But multiple factors would indicate that this government is not really about COVID-19.

One element that would suggest that the virus is not the key factor in forming this government is the timing. One would expect that forming an emergency government would be an urgent matter, settled in days or at most a couple of weeks, not over a month of secret and official talks. Additionally, it seems odd for Netanyahu and Gantz to wait for the first peak of coronavirus cases to pass and for daily cases to be in steady decline before making an agreement. This is not to say that the crisis is over in any way and it will influence all our lives for much time to come but it further shows that this emergency government is not working with the emergency in mind.

The contentious parts of the agreement were also not about important elements of the coronavirus response such as lockdown exit strategies or provision of care to the Palestinians. The issue that caused the most friction before signing was the appointment of judges to Israeli courts. Netanyahu keeping immunity from conviction was also clearly a priority for him in making this agreement. This further shows that this government is not really about unity or the global pandemic but is about yet more politics from Netanyahu.

The agreement to annex parts of the West Bank after July 1st also makes it crystal clear that the Coronavirus is not the focus of the deal. Any steps towards annexation would require a great deal of human resources and vast sums of money, neither of which would then be available to deal with the health crisis. Further, annexation-related activity on the ground  – be it land surveying, dealing with protests and other security matters, not to mention construction - would potentially cause a flare-up in the spread of the virus, making annexation during this pandemic a ludicrous idea. Annexation will always be a dangerous, illegal and immoral endeavor, but this timing illustrates that the new ‘unity government’ has not put combating Coronavirus above politically motivated actions that may in fact exacerbate the problem.

Netanyahu’s focus remains self-serving. His actions demonstrate that he sees the virus as something to exploit for his own personal and political gains. So, while COVID-19 was the initially stated impetus behind forming this emergency unity government, the inclusion of a July 1st date for beginning steps towards annexation, tells a different story.

 Written by Thomas Sweeney, APN Intern


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