In March 2020, when COVID-19 was causing the near collapse of health systems across the world, Israel had just voted third time in the parliamentary election for the third time in less than a year. This was so because no political party was able to muster the majority in Knesset (Israeli parliament) after earlier elections in April 2019 and Sept 2019. Benjamin Netanyahu has been acting Prime minister since the time when he went for the dissolution of Knesset December 2018 with a hope of securing an extended majority for his right wing coalition. However he failed to secure even the simple majority in three elections on April 19, Sept 19, and March 20. Then came the COVID-19 and he sensed an opportunity to make a comeback from the brink of political disaster to reclaim the prime ministership of Israel.
The COVID-19 pandemic tested the Israeli citizens just like the other countries and Benjamin Netanyahu kept on telling that unless it is effectively controlled, there will be devastation not seen since the Middle Ages. He also stressed that even the First world countries such as the US and UK are at the brink of losing control. Many Israelis expressed admiration towards Netanyahu’s quick response to the pandemic which helped to contain the pandemic in earlier stages. They flattened their curve by shutting down public places such as parks, schools, educational institutions, and the hotspot areas. He followed two stage strategies — first, to locate and isolate the infected population and then to engage the healthy population in economic activities during the conditions of a semi-lockdown. These steps were taken to save the economy. His plan also carried a huge amount of tests in the hope that it could be established that some people were developing antibodies to resist the virus and could safely be “freed” from isolation. Although the steps being acknowledged, they still raised a lot of questions against Netanyahu. He was supposed to be facing charges for breach of trust and bribery in the month of March. The court shutdown ordered by Israeli Law minister delayed Netanyahu’s charges by two months. Israel also used the cell phone of citizens to monitor their movement to track the spread of pandemic for which he was criticised for breaching the citizen’s privacy. Yohanan Plesner, the president of the Israel Democracy Institute said that Israelis trust the Shin Bet to protect them and not to abuse that trust, and the cellphone monitoring may have serious long-term effects on that trust. Netanyahu, however, defended himself with usual combativeness by stating that the courts were under a temporary shutdown and he has received permission from the General Attorney for cellphone usage data which was valid for 14 days. He also said “If the Shin Bet is to
After managing to convince the citizens that he had handled the COVID-19 situation effectively, he quickly approached the rival Benny Gantz with a proposal to form an “emergency unity government”. As part of the deal he offered to share the power with Gantz’s Blue and White party for three years during which Netanyahu was to be prime minister and Benny Gants Dy prime minister for the first 18 months and the role reversal afterwards. He kept on harping the disastrous consequences of the virus and mentioned “It could affect 60-80% of the population” and said “nobody knows” how devastating the virus would ultimately prove.
It was not easy for Benny Gantz to accept the proposal to align with Netanyahu as his whole campaign was on the issue of never supporting Netanyahu. However Netanyahu, who is acknowledged by friends and foes alike as a shrewd politician willing to go to any extent in safeguarding his own interest, finally won the war of attrition. Benny Gantz accepted the deal offered by Netanyahu and agreed to let him continue to be the prime minister for the first 18 months of the alliance period. The COVID-19 calamity has effectively turned into an opportunity for Netanyahu to hold on to the power and continue to be the prime minister of Israel.