Two prime ministers issued two declarations in prime time, 24 hours apart. Both were election campaign speeches that ended with no elections. But still there was a difference. On Sunday evening, Benjamin Netanyahu opened with words of conciliation, and then moved to an impassioned declaration of war, strewn with lies and slander.
On Monday, however, his alternate, Benny Gantz, perhaps to refresh us, chose the opposite option: He opened with tough comments about Netanyahu and Likud; gone were the days of innocence and grace, he promised/threatened, no more restraint, there would be no more acceptance of “exclusion, insults and blood libels.” The natural continuation would have been for him to announce that Kahol Lavan was leaving the government and that elections would ensue, to bring about a “stable government,” etc. But he, too, came to a different conclusion.
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The end was delayed by 120 days, but the rhetoric said it all. These will be four months of a passionate election campaign, saturated with quarrels and mutual resentment. It will be Gantz’s disillusionment against Netanyahu’s uncontrollable instinct to continue humiliating his partners, and to continue to lie and falsely accuse.
After Gantz ceremoniously announced that he is no longer the Mr. Nice Guy we once knew, and after his self-confidence returned yesterday, we can now expect a totally different performance.
Something happened on Monday to Israeli politics. In the struggle with Gantz over the narrative, Netanyahu blinked first. The Kahol Lavan chairman planned to deliver his speech at 8:30 P.M. Netanyahu hastened to record a video clip that was sent to the news broadcasters a quarter hour before, ostensibly to neutralize the sting from the alternate’s address.
In the sea of mutual threats hurled by cabinet members from both parties, a bitter dispute that continued almost until the last moment went almost unnoticed: Netanyahu, who is scared to death by the appointment of the next state prosecutor, demanded that before the Knesset votes on lawmaker Zvi Hauser’s compromise bill to delay the passing of the state budget, the cabinet would vote on giving equal representation to Likud and Kahol Lavan on the nominating committee. That is, whichever nominee was brought before the justice minister for approval would have to be agreed upon by Gantz and his party, as well as by the prime minister, who has been indicted for bribery, fraud and breach of trust. Should they disagree, no permanent state prosecutor would be appointed.
Kahol Lavan objected. Likud threatened to go to elections, on the false argument that this was a violation of an agreement. Gantz showed laudable intransigence. The ultra-Orthodox parties told Netanyahu that they’d support Hauser’s proposal. When Netanyahu understood that disbanding the Knesset and heading to elections at the peak of an unprecedented economic crisis would be on his shoulders, the shoulders of the suspect who wishes to appoint his own prosecutors – he gave in.
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We’re now facing a two-stage election campaign: Four months, followed by another three. Seven months of pleasure. The next election will be held at the end of March 2021, midway into court hearings about Case 4000, Netanyahu’s bribery count.
Last night, too, after Netanyahu had raised a white flag, Gantz, who spoke after him, nearly didn’t change a word of his speech. Not in the aggressiveness – his declaration of intent to continue – nor in the technical side, his call to Netanyahu to come to the Knesset plenum with him and vote to delay elections (even after the latter already said he’d do so). The former chief of staff is breaking with unity. He’s not taking anything at face value, and he’s gotten to know his partner: Until the Knesset electronic board shows the vote results are in, there’s no counting on anything, certainly not this prime minister.
When Netanyahu arrived he had a scoop for the journalists: “I don’t recall talking about Gantz the way he spoke about me, but this is the time to work together.” Two comments: 1) If he really doesn’t remember, he needs urgent medical care. Dementia doesn’t suit a prime minister. 2) Working together is great, it’s never too late to repent, but even Gantz won’t believe him at this point.