Netanyahu-Gantz Deal Ensures Accused Premier Will Have the Last Word

Benny Gantz surrenders yet again after giving up his strategic leverage, going against everything he believes in on the matter of annexation

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Benjamin Netanyahu at an event kicking off Likud's campaign for the March 2020 election.
Benjamin Netanyahu at an event kicking off Likud's campaign for the March 2020 election. Credit: Emil Salman
Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter

The Israeli hoax called the “emergency government” could not have reached a more shameful low than its final accord. The coalition agreement that was reached by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Kahol Lavan Chairman Benny Gantz Monday evening gives Likud de facto veto power over the Supreme Court justices. The same justices will presumably have to rule on Netanyahu’s likely future appeal of the verdict in his trial. 

The man who has been indicted for bribery, fraud and breach of trust, who for the past several years has been methodically undermining the law enforcement system, will be given the last word, thanks to the generosity of Kahol Lavan. MK Zvi Hauser will become the proverbial long arm of the Judicial Appointments Committee: Conservative and dogmatic, he is the man behind the racist, so-called nation-state law. His hostility to the court’s liberal approach rivals that of Ayelet Shaked.

Benny Gantz, who thought he would be signing a quick, straightforward deal, met a war of attrition that the prime minister tailored to his rival’s tall and naive proportions. An unrestrained political wizard versus a gentle, decent and well-meaning challenger.

He jettisoned his strategic assets at the sound of the first boom, and submitted to the late-night meetings at the prime minister’s home. When Gantz returned to the arsenal and searched for the last pistol, in the form of the bill that would bar a criminal defendant from forming a government, he discovered that he didn’t even have caps for a toy gun.

Netanyahu and Gantz signing the coalition deal at the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem, April 20, 2020

He tried to act as if he still had some ammunition, but his deserter former political partners, soon to be the heads of the opposition, made it clear that he will soon forget about it. On Monday night, the chairman of the party that ran in three elections on the slogan “Anyone but Bibi” had already returned to Netanyahu’s Jerusalem home to sign the agreement. Under it, the former standard bearer of the rule of law will vote for legislation mandating an automatic early election in the event the High Court disqualifies Netanyahu from serving as prime minister or acting prime minister – without even an attempt to form an alternative government in the current Knesset.

Gantz, Gabi Ashkenazi and the thinned-out ranks that remained behind them with the right to call themselves Kahol Lavan surrendered again and again. The agreement of the two former army chiefs of staff to the clause imposing unilateral Israeli sovereignty in the Palestinian territories from July goes against everything they believe in on the issue.

Netanyahu will celebrate setting his seal on history, and they will stutter before their supporters as well as the international community, before the moderate Sunni Muslim states, including Egypt, and before Jordan, which will threaten to cancel the peace treaty.

Netanyahu’s major achievement is that he avoided a fourth round of elections this summer. That’s why he agreed to put his own signature to a document that includes the termination date of his current term in office, which will have lasted 11 years and a month straight. The opinion polls, which hand him a major achievement on paper, are like a defective coronavirus test swab.

An election in the middle of a huge economic tsunami that is already burying millions of Israelis could have blown up in Netanyahu’s face. The spread of the coronavirus may be relatively under control, but the pace of the economic collapse is still far from its crescendo.

And yet, without the virus, he wouldn’t have had a government. Even if we experience another upsurge in infections, it won’t be the disaster the likes of which have not been seen “since the Middle Ages,” as the ultimate sower of fear put it.

On Monday evening, unashamedly and audaciously, and with an extreme lack of sensitivity even for him, he compared the coronavirus to the Holocaust and boasted that, unlike then, now he had spotted the danger in time.

Netanyahu was not only concerned that a huge electoral promise would, at the moment of truth, become a curse. He was also worried about the High Court of Justice, which if there were a fourth round of elections, after his trial would have already begun, might drum up the courage and intervene on an issue that in the past he had deemed “theoretical” – the fitness of an indicted candidate to form a government. With the formation of a unity government, he will have in all likelihood nearly hamstrung the High Court.

There are judges in Jerusalem, but they live among the people. In the face of a government with rotating prime ministers that will have the support of a decisive majority of the public, the justices would have a very difficult time setting a precedent that would ignite a flaming backlash on the right, where Netanyahu has already poured gallons of gasoline for the day of reckoning. The match is always at the ready in his hand.

Mr. Economics knows that if he stands alone, he also dies alone. This way at least he will have someone to share the blame with, or to shift the blame to (he’s an expert in the field). Gantz and the cabinet ministers from his party have no prospect of surviving the hazing that they will suffer at the hands of Likud ministers during their term in office together. Gantz & Co. will play golf, while their cabinet counterparts will be kickboxing. It will begin at the policy level, such as the handling of the coronavirus crisis, and will end with the familiar mudslinging around every development in the criminal trial of the revered leader.

Heyday for hypocrisy 

Kahol Lavan, meanwhile, has achieved results of its own, including anchoring the rotation agreement between Netanyahu and Gantz in a way that appears ironclad. It also kept its commitment to parity – no, not in the outrageously inflated size of the cabinet – but on matters involving senior appointments, such as the police chief, the attorney general and the state attorney; and the need for complete consensus on putting issues on the cabinet’s agenda and on decision-making.

Kahol Lavan also scored an achievement in shunting aside the two professional trolls who acted as mouthpieces for the Prime Minister’s Residence and had flattered their way to control of the Justice and Communications Ministries, the two bastions most important to the warped agenda of the person who appointed them. Now Amir Ohana and David Amsalem will be replaced by Gantz’s people.

The same goes for the Culture Ministry, a mini-ministry with a small budget that managed to consume a fair amount of our attention, and will now have to be cleansed of the past five years of foulness.

It’s still difficult to see how Netanyahu is squaring the circle when it comes to those who are going to be disappointed. That goes for senior Likud figures, most of whom will be offered posts they will find insulting if they get them at all, and only at the end of the process. And then there’s the until now cabinet-heavy Yamina party, which will be left with nothing, much to the satisfaction of the two other people with whom Netanyahu shares the Prime Minister’s Residence.

If Yamina joins the opposition, (which will be headed by Yair Lapid), we will be witness to an odd spectacle. Netanyahu will be facing Naftali Bennett, Ayelet Shaked, Moshe Ya’alon and Avigdor Lieberman, all of whom are no less right-wing than he is. And as is known, he doesn’t like to be played from the right.

The future coalition is a paradise for deserters, for those who steal Knesset seats and break up political parties. Zvi Hauser and Yoaz Hendel will be getting a nice pile of booty: the chairmanship of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee for Hauser (and membership in the Judicial Appointments Committee) and a cabinet position for Hendel.

Pnina Tamano-Shata, who rode into the Knesset on Yair Lapid’s back and then deserted him, will become immigrant absorption minister. The Labor-Gesher union, that political abomination headed by a pretentious and disconnected Amir Peretz and self-absorbed political opportunist Orli Levi-Abekasis, will be getting three ministerial portfolios.

That’s what happens to people who cheat their voters. And by the way, Levi-Abekasis’ appointment will come from the cabinet positions allocated to Likud, meaning that all of her denials over an arrangement between her and Netanyahu now purportedly appear to be another in her series of lies.

This is the heyday of opportunism and hypocrisy. Everyone is working to advance noble principles, but only on the condition that it pays off in the form of an appointment.

In the name of “parity,” the new cabinet will have 30 ministers, to be inflated later to 34 or even 36. There will be 16 deputy ministers, and the passage of a so-called Norwegian “skipping” Law will allow Kahol Lavan ministers to resign from the Knesset and be replaced by Knesset members limited to Gantz’s faction. 

The agreement also includes an official residence for the deputy or acting prime minister, despite the embarrassment that it entails. That’s all the deputy first lady would otherwise be lacking – the staff of an official residence to abuse. And this at a time when businesses will be collapsing and unemployment offices bursting to the brim, presided over by the most monstrously bloated cabinet that Israel has ever seen.

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