It’s really quite simple: Blue and White leader Benny Gantz explored every nook and cranny and then concluded that he could not form a new coalition government. The only atrocious alternative was a fourth general election in just over one year; this while Israelis are dying of coronavirus, with no end in sight. So far, nine Israelis have died with some 2,700 confirmed cases and counting.
The dismal backdrop
Gantz is being tarred and feathered by two of his co-leaders in Blue and White, Yair Lapid and Moshe Yaalon, for betraying their joint cause to oust Netanyahu (soon to be tried on three indictments for bribery, fraud, and breach of trust).
There’s no question that Gantz was between a rock and a very hard place. Two elected Knesset members of the Blue and White party, Zvi Hauser and Yoaz Handel, refused to join a Gantz government that would include the Israeli Arab party. This barred Gantz from building a 61-seat majority in the 120-member Knesset. Therefore, the only alternative would be for Gantz to force a fourth election or to join a Netanyahu coalition.
He chose the deal that will allow Netanyahu to continue serving for another 18 months in a rotation agreement. During this time, Gantz will be Deputy Prime Minister as well as Foreign Minister. At the end of the 18 months, he will switch jobs with Bibi and become Prime Minister. There is a second key position for Gantz supporter – Gabi Ashkenazi, also a former IDF Chief of Staff, will now receive the key post of Defense Minister. Many Israelis will undoubtedly laud this appointment.
The Blue and White party has now been smashed to smithereens, which has sparked sharp criticism among many Blue and White voters. The former party’s other leaders, Yair Lapid and Moshe Yaalon, charge that Gantz has betrayed their joint venture to oust Netanyahu. In their view, Gantz is totally naive if he believes that Bibi will respect the rotation and hand over the Prime Minister’s office to Gantz in another year and a half.
Other former Gantz colleagues, many of his voters, and pundits perceive him as a traitor to the cause of ousting Bibi. At best, Gantz is perceived as being a “patsy” if he believes that Bibi will honor the rotation deal. The other far-right and religious parties that served in the former government will carry on in the new emerging coalition.
Then there’s corona …
Naturally, the Gantz thunderbolt comes against the backdrop of the corona crisis. Despite the lockdown, the numbers of afflicted are climbing, and the epidemic is yet to reach its peak. Prime Minister Netanyahu and the senior official at the Ministry of Health have headed a campaign against corona with Netanyahu appearing almost nightly on TV. But more and more critics are accusing them of doing “too little too late.” The fact is, Israel has a well-developed civil defense organization designed to kick in during times of war. This includes not only health services but also the economy. The critics charge Netanyahu should have already activated this apparatus, rather than running a “one-man show.”
There is at least one ray of light – a group of talented teenagers and their instructors have invented a breathing ventilator that has proven to be highly successful. Not only that, but it can also be produced quickly and at a lower cost than current models. The new invention has been tested out and will go into production almost immediately.
The Gantz drama is one of the most startling in Israel’s political history. Hanan Crystal, the dean of Israeli pundits, draws an analogy with King Solomon’s ruling on who what was the real mother of the disputed child. “The decision for Gantz was whether to force a fourth successive election that everyone agreed would be a national disaster or to make a political deal to join a Bibi-led government in this time of emergency. Gantz proved who was the real mother of the child!”