After Months of Negotiations, Gantz Believes Netanyahu Less Than Ever

Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter
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Benny Gantz during a press briefing after a faction meeting at the Knesset, Jerusalem, December 2, 2019
Benny Gantz during a press briefing after a faction meeting at the Knesset, Jerusalem, December 2, 2019Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter

The meeting between Benny Gantz and Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday afternoon lasted less than 45 minutes. It was arranged hastily by the Prime Minister’s Office, nearly on the spot. Tell them I’ll go anywhere and will get there as soon as I can, Gantz instructed his aides. He cleared his schedule and hurried to the government headquarters in Tel Aviv, the Kirya.

Once in the office, he had a distressing sense of deja-vu. It’s the same tune as before, the same “legislative proposals” giving the rotation of the premiership the force of law that were reviewed by the negotiating teams. That’s where he realized he was the victim of a conspiracy, and that he was nothing more than an extra in a play written by a sworn cynic.

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On the way to his car he dictated to his spokesman a laconic announcement about a meeting held “in a positive and respectful atmosphere.” The spokesman planned to send it as dictated to his counterpart in the Prime Minister’s Office, in keeping with the relations between them. But even before Gantz got into the car, they were hit by a statement issued by Likud, accusing Kahol Lavan of refusing to form a unity government “due to the veto imposed by Yair Lapid.”

The ruse was complete. Gantz was upset. That’s not his style. Someone asked him whether, after all his meetings with Netanyahu over the past 70 days, Gantz now believed the prime minister more, or less, than at the outset of coalition talks.

To my regret, he replied, I believe him less today.

When he was asked whether he planned to ask the Knesset to grant him immunity from prosecution, Netanyahu replied, I don’t know. Gantz had the sense he was concealing something. He wants immunity? Let him say it. In any event the date on which he steps down and declares himself incapacitated for the duration of the legal proceedings against him won’t be effected by parliamentary proceedings.

That repeated evasion reinforced in Gantz and his partners the sense that Netanyahu was planning something “unknown” that would undo the coalition agreements. He has no idea why Netanyahu insisted on being first in the rotation, for half a year. (A five-month period, he says, was never mentioned.) It’s an enigma, he says. The official reasons are the proposed annexation of the Jordan Valley and mutual defense pact with the United States. He’s not buying that.

In private conversation, he confirms the development of two camps among the leaders of Kahol Lavan: He and Gabi Ashkenazi are leaning more toward compromise (although Gantz still insists on being first in the rotation). Lapid and Moshe Ya’alon, former cabinet ministers in Netanyahu governments — one resigned, the other was forced to resign — warn him of a trap.

Contradicting Likud whip Miki Zohar, Gantz claims the talks between the parties have continued. If the problem can be solved in the week that remains, he says, I shall solve it. In any case, he doesn’t plan to cause a rupture within Kahol Lavan between his Hosen L’Yisrael faction and Lapid’s Yesh Atid. It’s everyone, or no one.

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