On Monday evening, Benny Gantz signed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s public acquittal. That is the bottom line of the coalition agreement between Kahol Lavan and Likud. In agreeing to serve as Netanyahu’s appointed successor, Gantz made it clear to the public that he doesn’t care about the prime minister’s bribery indictment. He has no reservations, ethical or otherwise, about a political partnership with a man who has been charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust and who seeks to destroy Israeli democracy. This is a man whom Gantz himself held up before the March 2 election as the Israeli version of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
For Gantz, the image is reversed: Netanyahu’s indictments aren’t a problem; they’re an opportunity. They give him a chance to qualify for the top post in 18 months or possibly sooner, in the event that Netanyahu resigns or falls ill. Gantz didn’t enter politics to promote principles and values. Instead, he saw it as a track for promotion: from IDF private all the way to chief of staff, and now, as a civilian, to defense minister and prime minister.
That’s what the coalition agreement promises, and he chose signing it with Netanyahu over a fourth general election during the coronavirus crisis. He concluded that even if there was only a slim chance that he would actually replace Netanyahu after 18 months, it was presumably greater than the likelihood of Kahol Lavan forming a government without Netanyahu.
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Gantz must think that he caught Netanyahu at his weakest and got the deal of his dreams out of him: an inner cabinet with parity between Kahol Lavan and Likud, mutual veto power over any resolution, rotation of the prime minister without an additional Knesset vote, myriad cabinet positions and other top posts.
He’s not obsessed about the composition of the Judicial Appointments Committee like the right-wingers are and he had no problem with trading in positions of legal power, giving them to Netanyahu in exchange for control of numerous Knesset committees and other appointments. That is the essence of the deal: Netanyahu wants to avoid his trial, Gantz wants the trappings of power.
Gantz’s election motto, “Israel before all else,” should be changed to “Israel after all else.” Instead of a recovery plan for a country in crisis, we got an agreement between two opportunists for divvying up the political spoils, from the Knesset committees to the next ambassador to Australia.
The core issues – from the economic crisis to the coronavirus pandemic to social problems and foreign relations – will be delegated to committees or legislative drafting teams. The emergency period will be extended by six months, and then it will be extended again and again, for the rulers’ convenience.
The annexations in the West Bank, the heart of the right-wing bloc’s ideology, was mentioned in passing, like a mine that Netanyahu placed in the agreement as an exit clause rather than a firm commitment. In any event, the timing and scope of the annexation will be tailored to suit the interests of U.S. President Donald Trump and his reelection campaign, not set in deliberations between representatives of Likud and Kahol Lavan.
Gantz’s voters never imagined that they were casting their ballots to the rescue squad that would keep Netanyahu in power and sanction his corrupt actions and threats to democracy. But that was the choice Gantz made. It’s not a romance, but rather an alliance of scoundrels, the bribery suspect and the vote thief, and their partnership will reflect this.
Each side will search for potential deserters in the opposing camp in a bid for a voting majority, each side will tweet and leak to the best of its ability against its partner/rival and each side will try to dissolve the agreement from an advantageous position. The rivalry between Netanyahu and Gantz did not end with the signing of the agreement, it only took on a new form.