Opinion

Netanyahu’s uneasy alliance seems headed toward collapse

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and Defense Minister Benny Gantz during the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, June 7, 2020. (AP Photo)
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Updated 11 August 2020

Netanyahu’s uneasy alliance seems headed toward collapse

  • Fractious coalition government could be headed toward collapse as Israel grapples with a raging coronavirus outbreak, an economic calamity and a wave of public protests
  • With little common ground and a severe lack of trust, the uneasy alliance now has just two weeks to reach a budget deal or plunge the nation into its fourth election since last year

JERUSALEM: When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his rival, Benny Gantz, agreed to form an “emergency” government in May after three bitter and deadlocked election campaigns, the goal was to stabilize Israeli politics in the face of a global pandemic.
But less than 100 days later, their fractious coalition government could be headed toward collapse as Israel grapples with a raging coronavirus outbreak, an economic calamity and a wave of public protests. With little common ground and a severe lack of trust, the uneasy alliance now has just two weeks to reach a budget deal or plunge the nation into its fourth election since last year.
The differences run so deep that this week’s Cabinet meeting was canceled. Parliament is expected on Wednesday to approve an extension beyond the Aug. 25 deadline to allow the sides more time to reach a compromise. But even if there is a deal, few expect the partnership to last much longer because of the bad blood and many clashes.
“What is clear is that even if elections have been deferred, this is just a matter of time. In another two months a new excuse will be found, and we will once again find ourselves in the same deep crisis,” argued columnist Sima Kadmon in the Yediot Ahronot daily. “Netanyahu has been given time to conceive of his next tricks and shticks.”
Critics say that Netanyahu is focused on his ongoing corruption trial and resistant to ceding the premiership to Gantz next year, as called for by their coalition agreement. Netanyahu has reportedly tried to lure in defectors from Gantz’s party to secure a thin parliamentary majority and avert another election.
Netanyahu has seen his support drop dramatically in the face of the wave of demonstrations sweeping the country against his perceived failure to respond to the virus and its resulting economic crisis. He’s repeatedly said he opposes another election, saying that with unemployment over 20% now is the time to focus on getting the Israeli economy back on track.
But opponents believe he is angling for a crisis that would trigger a new election. Despite the dip in support, polls suggest Netanyahu’s Likud maintains a sizable lead over all other parties.
The election of a more favorable government could enable Netanyahu to pre-empt what is expected to be a a new legal challenge against his fitness to serve. Opponents are expected to file the challenge when the evidentiary stage of the trial begins in January. During that phase, he will be required to sit in court three times a week.

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In another twist, opposition leader Yair Lapid, who this week accused both Netanyahu and Gantz of playing “pathetic petty politics at the expense of the public,” intends to introduce a bill that will bar anyone indicted of a crime from seeking the premiership. Without Gantz’s support, it is unlikely to pass.
The showdown ostensibly revolves around the state’s budget. The government is required by law to pass one by Aug. 25 or else elections are automatically called.
The coalition agreement calls for a two-year budget. But Netanyahu, citing the economic crisis, is pushing for a 2020 budget alone. Gantz says that a short-term budget halfway through the year would be meaningless and violate their deal.
Netanyahu appears to be driven in part by political considerations.
Under their power-sharing deal, a failure to reach a budget deal is the only situation that allows Netanyahu to dissolve the partnership without yielding power to Gantz.
If a long-term budget deal is reached, it would all but guarantee that Gantz will take over as prime minister in September 2021, as specified in the deal.
Netanyahu desperately wants to stay in office throughout his trial, which is expected to drag on for several years.
At a tour of an air force base Tuesday, he tried to explain his motivations as that of responsible leadership.
“I don’t deal in ultimatums. I think we need to pass a budget immediately, for the needs of our security and for the needs of the state,” Netanyahu said.
Defense Minister Gantz, whose Blue and White faction has also seen its support drop, says he doesn’t want to go to elections and accuses Netanyahu of having “personal reasons” for leading to it.
“Whoever loves the state of Israel doesn’t take it to elections at this time,” Gantz said Monday.
He and Netanyahu have repeatedly clashed throughout their brief alliance over various pieces of legislation and policy proposals. Ever since Gantz’s faction broke ranks with coalition discipline two weeks ago to pass a pro-gay rights bill, Netanyahu’s allies have been threatening disbandment.
They’ve also differed in their approach to the widescale protests drawing thousands to the streets several times a week. While Gantz has sympathized with the demonstrators, Netanyahu has denounced them as radicals and anarchists who were waging an incitement campaign against him and his family.
Netanyahu has come under withering criticism for remaining in office while on trial for corruption, pushing for seemingly anti-democratic measures under the guise of combating the virus and generally mismanaging the crisis. The size of his bloated government, a minister’s comment dismissing the public’s pain, and his own efforts to secure himself a sizable tax break have created a sense that the 70-year-old Netanyahu is detached from the troubles of his angry electorate. His family’s perceived hedonism and zest for power have further alienated those who are struggling.
Netanyahu is on trial for a series of cases in which he allegedly received lavish gifts from billionaire associates and traded regulatory favors with media moguls for more favorable coverage of himself and his family. The prime minister has denied any wrongdoing and accuses the media and law enforcement of a witch hunt to oust him from office.


Afghan mothers celebrate children’s ID move

Updated 1 min 7 sec ago

Afghan mothers celebrate children’s ID move

  • President Ghani’s amendment is an ‘important mark in history,’ activists say

KABUL: Women in Afghanistan have welcomed President Ashraf Ghani’s decision to sign an amendment that allows the name of a mother to be printed on childrens’ national identity cards.

Activists said on Saturday that it was a “significant” victory for women’s rights in the deeply conservative country.

Ghani made the decision on Thursday without securing parliamentary approval, despite his government saying earlier this month that the amendment would require a house endorsement before being signed into law.

However, speaking to Arab News on Saturday, Ghani’s chief spokesman Sediq Seddiqi said: “Since the Parliament is in recess (annual leave), the cabinet endorsed the amendment and the president signed it into law.”

Endorsing the president’s move, Breshna Rabi, a woman lawmaker from northern Balkh, about 450 km from Kabul, said that the bill did not need a “debate” because it was not a “controversial issue.”

She added: “This is great news and a victory for women in Afghanistan. Not only women, but men also support and welcome this decision both within and outside the parliament.”

Rabi was joined by independent actor Freshta Kazemi, who hailed the move as a “historic milestone” for the country.

“Including the Afghan mother’s name on the national ID is an important mark in Afghan history on the changing and emerging identity of the nascent Afghan democracy. It only makes sense that all our mothers’ identities are now honored on an institutional identity level,” she told Arab News.

While Ghani was praised across the country, several people said credit should also be given to a 28-year-old university student Laleh Osmany, who championed the cause by launching the #whereismyname social media campaign three years ago to fight Afghanistan’s “misogynistic” culture.

A crucial part of her campaign, Osmany said, was pressuring authorities to include the name of a mother next to the father on national IDs, especially for women who were divorced, had lost their husbands in war, or whose spouses were missing.

“They faced tough times sorting out legal issues such as the right to inheritance, guardianship or issuance of passports for themselves or their children in the absence of a father, ” Osmany, a graduate of Islamic law from Herat University, told Arab News.

After the hashtag went viral and she was armed with support from social media users both at home and abroad, Osmany says her efforts finally bore fruit when the Afghan government — after several days of deliberations with religious scholars — amended the census law and accepted the proposal earlier this month.

On Saturday, Osmany said she could not “contain her joy” after hearing of the president’s decision two days ago.

“There is no doubt that this victory is the result of a persistent campaign among campaigners and citizens, both men and women. The government also stood by citizens, and I express my gratitude to the president himself and his deputies for their support. I also thank everyone, men and women who supported our campaign and raised their voice, and congratulate all campaigners,” she told Arab News.

It is a rare win for women’s rights activists in the deeply conservative and male-dominated country, where taboos mean a women’s names are often missing from wedding invitations and even graves.

In public, young children and sometimes adult men often fight if someone mentions the name of their mother or sister — an act seen as an attempt to bring dishonor and shame to a family.

According to estimates shared by the Statistics and Information Authority, women make up 49 percent of the total Afghan population of 32.9 million.

While there are 68 women in the 250-member parliament, with several serving in the cabinet, many women have struggled to assert themselves as legal guardians of their children, both in government offices or when carrying out business transactions in the absence of a man.

Recognizing the historical significance of the move, Heather Barr, interim co-director of the women’s rights division of Human Rights Watch said in a statement: “Good news on women’s rights does not happen every day in Afghanistan.”

She added that the law is a “major victory” for Afghan women’s rights activists, who for several years have campaigned for both parents to be named. She said it would have a “domino effect” on their lives.

“The reform will have important consequences, making it easier for women to obtain an education, health care, passports and other documentation for their children. It will be especially significant for women who are widowed, divorced, separated or dealing with abusive parents,” she said.

Ghani’s signed the amendment amid intra-Afghan talks with the Taliban in Doha, Qatar, that aim to end more than 40 years of war and organize the departure of US-led troops from Afghanistan by next spring.

The Taliban banned women from education and jobs during its five-year rule, until it was toppled from power in late 2001. It has, however, pledged to uphold women’s rights as part of the peace process and negotiations.

Commenting on the campaign, Sayed Akbar Agha, a former Taliban commander, said last week that “mentioning mothers’ names on IDs was a dishonor.”

Experts have said that, while the move may be an important first step to promote women’s rights in the country, “it isn’t enough.”

Wali Ullah Shaheen, a former journalist, said: “Women need education, training and more importantly security rather than mentioning their names on ID.”

The government has been under fire for failing to stop targeted killings of women activists and officials in controlled areas, including Kabul in recent months, with prominent actor Saba Sahar and a woman negotiator in the intra-Afghan talks, Fawzia Koofi, being the latest victims.

Osmany, too, said she faced challenges and “received threats from unknown people” requesting she abandon her campaign.

When asked about her plans for the future, Osmany said she will “take a break for now.”

She added: “This campaign made my hair to go white. Working honestly in Afghanistan is difficult.”