Here’s what Israel’s economy and society are telling its politicians.
Israel held its second general election almost a month ago, and there is no sign of a government in formation.
Incumbent Prime Minister Netanyahu has a reputation of being a winner, usually. It seemed he had won back in April, only for one of his expected coalition partners (Yisrael Beiteinu) effectively to ditch him. Back to the electorate in September and he has actually ended up with a slightly worse set of cards to play with.
Today, he is a wounded race horse. The biggest evidence for this are those individuals, such as Gidon Sa’ar and Nir Barkat, in his own Likud party, who are beginning to announce that they are prepared to replace Netanyahu – of course, only if and when he resigns.
The same is true overseas. Assumedly one of his biggest fans, President Trump, has failed to do anything about recent Iranian aggression towards Saudi Arabia. Then last week, the Americans withdrew military protection from their Kurdish allies in northern Syria. Both items have sent shudders throughout the Israeli security services. (I remind you that one of Netanyahu’s key election posters included a photo of himself and his chum Trump, smiling together).
For good measure, Netanyahu’s supposedly close relations with President Putin are also being tested this weak. So far, Netanyahu’s words are having little impact.
Everyone knows that Netanyahu is facing legal accusations on at least three separate issues, involving bribery and the perverting of the course of justice. Many argue that the proverbial elephant in the room for both elections was Netanyahu’s desire to remain as Prime Minister for as long as possible. The law for removing a PM, if and when he has been formally charged, is unclear. It seems that technically he can stay where he is.
And what does this impasse mean for the average Israeli?
- The Bank of Israel has already issued a strong warning regarding the budget deficit, which has been out of control for nearly a year. Painful cuts are urged.
- The Bank of Israel has also reduced its estimates for economic growth in 2020 by a full half of one per cent to 3.0%.
- Reforms and incentives are held up. I have a client that wishes to apply for a government grant, which will help their company invest in new machinery. This will create employment and thus fulfill new export orders. The grant programme ran out a few months ago, and can only be extended when the Kenesset (Parliament) begins to work again. Meanwhile……
- Everyone accepts that the budget for the Ministry of Defense is large, relatively and absolutely. Including American support, it stands at 72.9 billion shekels (almost US$21 billion). Of this, 7.9 billion shekels (11%) is handed out in pensions. By way of comparison, the Ministry of Education is appropriated 6 billion shekels and the Ministry of Welfare 9.5 billion shekels annually. Disproportionate?
- As for the Ministry of Health, if you do not live in the key population centres, hospital services are simply poor. Pardon the pun, but I am sick and tired of seeing pictures of patients waiting in beds in hospital corridors. Unacceptable!
Aside from Netanyahu, there are at least three other politicians from the outgoing government awaiting for the Ministry of Justice to decide if they should be prosecuted. One of them includes the Minister of Health, Ya’akov Litzman, The Israeli political system is unwell, and most patients are demanding a new doctor be placed in charge.