Analysis

Amid Gaza Escalation, Netanyahu-Gantz 'Crisis Government' Closer Than Ever

Israel may have broken its cycle of elections but at the cost of a barrage of missiles on its southern front and uncertainty in the north

Benny Gantz and Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands as they attend a memorial ceremony for the late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin at Mount Herzl, Jerusalem, November 10, 2019.
POOL/ REUTERS

The assassination of Baha Abu al-Ata, a senior Islamic Jihad official in the Gaza Strip, has – with timing that many consider dubious – reshuffled the deck of the Israeli political game, in which the public had already lost interest out of sheer exhaustion.

Until now, it seemed the entire political system was fumbling all the way to another election, and that perhaps this was our new system of government – elections and yet more elections, devoid of either victory or significance. But on Tuesday, Israelis woke up to a historic moment. A “crisis government” led by Netanyahu, with the participation of Benny Gantz and his Kahol Lavan party, now seems like the most probable outcome.

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The faction of Kahol Lavan that supports entering a rotation government in which Netanyahu serves as prime minister first has received a tailwind from the premier to encourage it to stick to its task, which is far from simple – standing up to its voters, who are united by a personal hatred of Netanyahu, and breaking it to them that Netanyahu will base his next government on their votes.

There might be some achievements along the way – for instance, returning people like Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich, whose importance has been inflated out of all proportion, up to and including membership in the security cabinet, to their natural place on the opposition’s lunatic fringe. But some of Gantz’s voters, who have been waiting for years to end the Netanyahu nightmare, are likely to find this cold comfort.

Gantz, the chairman of the Kahol Lavan joint ticket, is completely on board with the idea. His supporters say they will be able to engrave a departure date on Netanyahu’s forehead, whether by dividing up the prime ministerial term in all kinds of strange ways (the current talk is of Netanyahu for the first year, Gantz for the second and third and then Netanyahu for the final year), or through legislation that would strengthen the role of the acting prime minister as well as the conditions under which Netanyahu would have to be declared incapacitated and take a leave of absence.

Gantz has proven to have an exceptional learning curve, they argue. He’s a leader in every respect.

Now that the feasibility of holding new elections has declined significantly, it’s easy for them to downplay the value of Yair Lapid’s broad shoulders and the organized party infrastructure he brought to the joint ticket from his Yesh Atid party. Effectively, Lapid remains the only obstacle blocking Kahol Lavan from serving under a prime minister whom it accused during the recent campaign of nothing less than major corruption and selling Israel’s security. Some party members even hinted clearly that the price of such a government might be a break-up of the joint ticket.

While the attorney general prayed for months that Israel’s voters and political system would pull his chestnuts out of the fire, they have already answered him, twice, that without a legal solution to the Netanyahu problem, there is no escape from the quagmire. This Gordian knot seems impossible to cut.

Perhaps such a “crisis government” is the most reasonable option in the current situation, when the southern front is already alight and the north seems likely to send us more bad news in the near future. But it’s sad and troubling that the price of a breakthrough in the Netanyahu problem was for residents of the center of the country to have joined their brethren down south on Tuesday in living under missiles and uncertainty.