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ISRAELI ELECTION PREDICTION - IS NETANYAHU/GANTZ COALITION A REAL POSSIBILITY

With Election Day fast approaching on April 9, Netanyahu and Gantz are still running neck-and-neck. But, barring unforeseen circumstances, Bibi still has the best chance of forming another coalition because he can count on the other right-wing and religious parties to go over the required 61-seat majority in the 120-member Knesset.

Last night I went to a Blue & White Party election rally in Jerusalem to hear Benny Gantz. A packed theatre in Cinema City gave the former IDF Chief of Staff a hero's welcome. How could it have been otherwise? The very tall paratrooper, looking trim in a blue suit, and flashing a warm smile, makes a great personal impression. He walks and talks like a standup guy. Someone everybody would love to have as their friend or commander on the battlefield. You can't help liking and respecting him, and Ganz basked in the warm and enthusiastic welcome of his supporters.

This was his first election appearance in Jerusalem which was an excellent opportunity for making some headlines in light of some of his gaffs recently

This was his first election appearance in Jerusalem which was an excellent opportunity for making some headlines in light of some of his gaffs recently; such as looking like a halfwit when he did a live TV interview from Washington due to the time delay between the questions of the interviewer in Jerusalem and his response. This was a major goof by his media people who should have anticipated this and ruled out any live interviews from Washington on Israeli TV.

Of course, Bibi's campaign manager seized upon it and milked it for all it was worth. It gave the impression that Gantz and his staff were rank amateurs in the hurly-burly of Israeli politics. Moreover, Bibi and his people have been ripping Gantz over the past weeks, exploiting every opportunity - such as the mysterious disclosure that Gantz's personal cellphone was hacked, and alluding that this was probably by Iran! Additionally, the rumor was spread that this may have involved an illicit romance by Gantz, who is a married man. In other words, Bibi has launched a no holds barred campaign in the matchup with his closest competitor.

Benny Gantz, the preacher

Gantz rejected the idea of playing "dirty tricks" against Bibi. In fact, he literally gave a sermon on the need "for all Israelis to return to the path of national unity and brotherhood."

Meanwhile, Netanyahu himself is up to his neck in corruption charges and now faces a possible indictment. In light of this, one could expect that Gantz would have a field day shredding Netanyahu. But to everyone's surprise and possible dismay, Gantz has refrained from attacking Netanyahu's possible involvement in financial and political corruption. On the contrary, last night Gantz rejected the idea of playing "dirty tricks" against Bibi. In fact, he literally gave a sermon on the need "for all Israelis to return to the path of national unity and brotherhood."

Gantz's appearance in Jerusalem was also a great opportunity to shake up the campaign by making some headlines. But to my surprise, I could not find one headline in his more than one-hour speech and question taking session.

Gantz came across like a preacher, not like a potential leader of a country now involved in a low-intensity war with Hamas in Gaza, and with the Iranian forces now entrenched in Syria and bent on building forward bases for attacking Israel in the future. And above all else, Gantz did not disclose any new and persuasive options on what to do about Gaza and the conflagration along the Israeli border which, in recent days, has boiled over to Hamas launching rocket attacks on Tel Aviv, and even farther north.

Make no mistake, the outcome of the Israeli election may hinge on this current conflagration. In one case, a family of seven Israelis, including three children and two seniors, just barely made it to their bomb shelter before a rocket demolished their home. Three were moderately injured.

Forecast

Israelis on the Center and the Left will tell you that this election is a war for Israel's democracy, now threatened by far-Right politicians

Therefore, barring unforeseen circumstances, Bibi will probably win as he is the most capable of cobbling together a coalition. In fact, much of the support for Gantz is based more on some voter's revulsion of Bibi rather than the political skills of Benny Gantz.

And when it comes to the question of playing dirty tricks in an election campaign, I recall the matchup in the US between the insulting Donald Trump and the polite Hilary Clinton. It's apparently true in politics - nice guys finish last. There's also truth in the Biblical expression, "conduct war with deception," and many Israelis on the Center and the Left will tell you that this election is a war for Israel's democracy, now threatened by far-Right politicians such as Naftali Bennet and Ayelet Shaked.

Moreover, the campaign today is focused on the ongoing conflagration with Hamas in Gaza and Gantz has not presented a viable alternative strategy that voters want to hear.

I tried to make these points personally to Gantz last night, but he was overwhelmed by his enthusiastic supporters. So, out of this hullabaloo, I collared separately two of his running mates - Hauser, a former cabinet secretary of Bibi Netanyahu no less, and Nikki Levy, former Police Chief of Jerusalem and cabinet official.

My case was that Gantz was ignoring the critical issue of this election campaign, what to do about the escalation of violence from Gaza and Bibi's failure to find a solution. This is what concerns voters more than anything else. So I suggested that Benny Gantz, their party leader, should initiate a two-state proposal to resolve the Gaza question and ease international pressure on the Jewish state for responding militarily.

Gantz should hold a news conference calling for an international initiative led by the US and including Saudi Arabia and the EU, etc. to finance a massive economic development program for Gaza.

First, Gantz should hold a news conference calling for an international initiative led by the US and including Saudi Arabia and the EU, etc. to finance a massive economic development program for Gaza. The effort should include a seaport, production facilities, and so forth, to vastly improve the welfare of the impoverished population (obviously, this would be accompanied by safeguards to prevent Hamas from smuggling in more rockets from Iran).

The second part would be a total Hamas commitment to both halting current terrorism against Israel and the buildup of terrorist infrastructure. Moreover, this two-part program would be sequential - any Hamas attempt to return to terrorism would mean the immediate cancelation of this development program.

What would Israel have to lose? The ones of international criticism of Israel eased for reacting to Hamas attacks (in fact, a leading Likud cabinet minister has in the past proposed that a seaport is built for the Palestinian population in Gaza under international controls).

However, I hit a brick wall with Gantz's associates. Both Hauser and Levy rejected my proposal, saying that the election is about far more than Gaza!

Bibi's options

As noted, Netanyahu will emerge from the election with the best chance of forming the new coalition. But there is also a fly in the ointment. The far Right parties have been hauling Netanyahu over the coals for failing to build settlements in Judea and Samaria - the West Bank. They accuse Netanyahu of giving in to pressure by US President Donald Trump, who at their initial meeting in the White House suggested to "hold off on the settlements." And now, Trump is about to present his "deal of the century" for Israel and the Palestinians. There's no question; this will go up like a lead balloon if it does not include a two-state solution. So, the question arises of how Netanyahu can promise wide-scale settlement building that the far-Right will demand and still maintain the crucial ties with the Trump Administration.

If Bibi caves in to their settlement demands, he will risk the vital ties that he has forged with the Trump administration.

If Bibi caves in to their settlement demands, he will risk the vital ties that he has forged with the Trump administration. This would appear to be a mission impossible. Wait a minute; there's another solution for Netanyahu to form a new government - what about the Blue & White Part of Benny Gantz! Gantz and his party, which includes several former Likud members, is not gung-ho on settlement building and takes a middle-of-the-way Centrist position, certainly not Leftist which is anathema to Bibi's Likud.

However, there is also a catch to this Gantz option. Bibi has been quietly working to block his indictment on fraud charges. Never one to take 'no' for an answer, Bibi has been playing with the idea of the "French option" - under French law, a ruling leader cannot be indicted while he serves in office, only after he retires. Bibi can be counted on to foist this option on Gantz's support, something that would allow Netanyahu to serve another term as Prime Minister. Then, after leaving office in the distance future, Bibi could seek a plea bargain that he would, no doubt receive and then retire into his twilight years. It obviously would be a bitter pill for Gantz and his party to accept, but perhaps most Israeli's would understand it's better than jeopardizing Israel's relations with President Donald Trump.

 

Political Analyst David Essing

 

 

David Essing

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