Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve noticed that Israel has become embattled and polarized over the current coalition’s “judicial reform.” Hundreds of thousands have taken to the streets. Tech entrepreneurs have begun taking their money out of Israel. Reservists have refused to show up for training and threatened to stop serving in the military if the reform passes. Things have gotten ugly.
If the reform goes through, it will be a disaster. Even putting aside the inevitable weakening of democratic institutions and freedoms that usually comes after the a Judiciary loses its independence, as has happened in other countries such as Poland and Hungary, we can expect more money to be taken out of Israel by tech companies, reservists actualizing their threats by not serving, and large swaths of the population moving out of the country.
Unfortunately, even if the government decides to cancel the reform, it won’t get any better. Begrudged leftists will be replaced with begrudged rightists who now feel that the country’s elites have forced a democratically elected government from realizing their judicial reform dreams. I could imagine a situation where right wing soldiers and reservists suddenly feel justified in refusing to serve in the military. That would be similarly disastrous for Israel.
But there is one way, and only one way out that can minimize the damage and even help foster unity. But it can only start with what I call “The Fantastic Four.”
The Fantastic Four
The Fantastic Four are the four Likud MK’s who put their feet down and make sure a compromise happens.
First, the Fantastic Four have to approach Benny Gantz and Gidon Saar from ‘National Unity’ and explain to them that they have to engage in coalition talks with Netanyahu, otherwise, they will support Levin and Rothman’s legislation. They will explain that they are making the same ultimatum with Netanyahu, and that if Netanyahu reneges on talks and disperses the negotiations, they will force another election. Gantz and Saar will be forced to acquiesce, since refusal means the reform passes and the aforementioned disaster happens.
Second, they must tell Netanyahu that he simply doesn’t have the 61 votes needed to pass the current reform, and that his only option is to negotiate with Gantz about a watered down reform (possibly along the guidelines of Herzog’s proposal.) They will tell Netanyahu, effectively, what they told Gantz: Negotiate in good faith, or we bring on another round of elections by voting against the state budget, at a time of severe unrest when the polls are against you. And if Gantz tries using these negotiations as a ploy to bring us to elections, he knows that we (the Fantastic Four) will back the original proposal, so you know you can trust him. The Fantastic Four will tell a similar story to the leaders of the Haredi parties as well (more on them in a bit).
But what is important to emphasize here is that the only way that this will work is if the Fantastic Four presents both Gantz and Netanyahu with no alternative. Any current negotiations are doomed to fail, since Netanyahu and his coalition partners want completely unfettered power to legislate as they wish, and Gantz won’t agree to this. If Netanyahu does agree to some actual judicial oversight that limits this coalition’s power, his partners are likely to leave his coalition, so Gantz has to offer him an alternative coalition partner. And Gantz will be inclined not to join a coalition with Netanyahu, since he has been burned by him before. In other words, the only possible way to get Netanyahu to renege on unfettered legislative power and for Gantz to sit again in a coalition with Netanyahu is for both of them to be left with no other choice. And the only ones who can reasonably deliver this ultimatum to both sides are the Fantastic Four (sorry, Deri!)
A New Coalition
In order to hammer out a new judicial agreement, a new coalition will be needed. The Religious Zionism party will probably refuse to negotiate a watered-down agreement and won’t sit in a coalition with ‘National Unity thus pushing them into the opposition. Yariv Levin will likely join the opposition as well. The Haredi parties will join the new coalition. This leaves us with a coalition of 61 MK’s.
At this point, the coalition should have no problem adding Ra’am as well, since Ra’am has no ideological objection to any of these parties, and the hawkish members of Likud can take solace in the fact that the coalition is “boosted” by Ra’am’s presence, but not dependent on them. That leaves a coalition of 66 MK’s that includes members of the right, left, Haredim, Arabs, and moderate religious Zionists who voted for Likud or National Unity.
|New Proposed Coalition (# of seats)||New Opposition|
|Likud without Fantastic Four or Levin (27)||Religious Zionism/Otzma Yehudit (14)|
|Fantastic Four (4)||Yesh Atid (24)|
|Shas (11)||Yisrael Beitenu (6)|
|UTJ (7)||Hadash-Ta’al (5)|
|National Unity (12)||Labor (4)|
|Ra’am (5)||United Arab List (5)|
|Yariv Levin (1)|
|Total (66)||Total (54)|
From there, negotiations can begin. Maybe it involves an override clause of 65 or 70 MK’s. Maybe the Labor party joins the coalition to get wider agreement on the reform. Maybe as part of the reform some of the pieces of legislation promised to the Haredi parties are passed, such as a Basic Law to allow mixed concerts to be publicly funded or a cancellation of the draft law. If these laws are rejected by the Supreme Court, the coalition can agree to “override” them with either 65 or 70 MK’s (if Labor joins the coalition.) Maybe Lapid agrees to support some of this legislation from the outside, knowing that it is extremely important to reach a broad consensus.
Afterwards, the new government will continue to function, with Netanyahu continuing as Prime Minister. Of course, Gantz can’t trust that Netanyahu won’t try reneging on his coalition deals like he did last time they sat together in a coalition, but the Fantastic Four can hold Netanyahu accountable and make sure that if he does renege, he will face elections. And the Fantastic Four will ensure that Gantz doesn’t bail and force early elections by threatening to return to the previous government and pass Levin’s reform if there is any funny business from him. This should be a credible threat. A dejected Religious Zionism party, along with a similarly dejected Levin, will not allow their anger at Netanyahu to foil a once-in-a-lifetime reform. Resorting back to the current coalition is always on the table.
Why should all this work?
Netanyahu gets the opportunity to continue ruling, and to extend his political life for at least a few years. He probably won’t get the opportunity to cancel his trial, but once that option is taken off the table by the Fantastic Four he will take what he can get by surviving as Prime Minister. It’s either that, or sending the country to another round of elections, in which he is likely to do much worse than he did last time.
Gantz and Saar can claim that they’ve saved Israel from undemocratic legislation, and that they did what they had to do, despite allowing Netanyahu to continue as Prime Minister. They get important ministerial seats and cement themselves as the compromising heroes of the center-right. The Haredim get to pass some of the legislation they want to pass, ensure exemptions from the military, and continue getting funding for their Yeshivot. Ra’am gets funding for the Arab communities. The Fantastic Four cement their legacies as peacemakers and could eventually extend their political careers by creating a party with Naftali Bennett after they are inevitably booted from Likud for being too “independent.”
Israel reaches a wide-reaching agreement, pacifying the left. At the same time, such an agreement would curtail the power of the Supreme Court, thus allowing Netanyahu to fulfill his election promise to the right as well. The only population that I expect to strongly object are the far right and supporters of ‘Religious Zionism.’ But that is a relatively small portion of the population, compared to what would happen if the current reform passes (where the entire center-left is shafted) and if no reform passes (where the entire right is shafted.) We would still have a lot of unhappy Israelis and likely street protests, but in this scenario, we’ve likely avoided a civil war and societal collapse.
However, all of this is dependent on four Likud MK’s putting their feet down, and holding both Netanyahu and Gantz by the… guts. Otherwise, there is no reason why Netanyahu will enter into negotiations in good faith and no reason why Gantz will offer a political lifeline to Netanyahu. Without the Fantastic Four putting their feet down, any current negotiations, including the ones with President Herzog behind the scenes, are doomed from the start. These four individuals are the only thing that can save our country from the abyss. Who are they, and do they understand their potential?
I don’t know. And maybe they have already started to set these ultimatums behind closed doors. But they should probably come out of hiding as soon as possible, because the country is getting restless.