Analysis

Gantz Ends Up as ‘Erdogan’s’ Deputy

Benny Gantz got a great deal: Steal a million votes from Netanyahu opponents, who saw him as an alternative, and end his career as second-in-command to the one he called a dictator

Benny Gantz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Knesset, Jerusalem, October 11, 2019.
Ohad Zweygberg

After a political crisis that lasted a year and a half and led to three election rounds, the result is clear-cut and unequivocal: Benjamin Netanyahu won big time. The “great victory” of which he boasted prematurely after April’s election arrived today.

No cliché would be exaggerated: The wizard defeated his rivals with a resounding knockout. He will be elected prime minister again with a large majority of Knesset members, despite not having won the general election and despite three indictments that were filed against him, which will likely be thrown away soon.

In a national emergency situation, in which thousands may suffocate without ventilators and people are not allowed to leave their homes, you don’t put the prime minister on trial to hear testimonies about his interference in editing Walla a few years ago. Certainly not with a broader, more stable coalition behind him than in any of Netanyahu’s governments.

Canceling the trial will be the first mission of the unity government, or emergency government, or whatever they call it. As autumn draws near, annexing the West Bank will come up for debate again. The more difficulty U.S. President Donald Trump encounters in getting reelected, the more tempted he’ll be to encourage Israeli annexation moves to rally his evangelical supporters against his rival Joe Biden. The coronavirus pandemic will yet be used to justify the annexation, with the argument that Israel must secure its control on its external and internal borders to prevent diseases.

Benny Gantz, who ran in the last election with the slogan “Kahol Lavan or Erdogan,” is now serving them both up to his voters on the same ballot. What a great deal: Steal a million votes from Netanyahu opponents, who saw Gantz as an alternative, and end his career as deputy of the one he called dictator, corrupt and the like.

Gantz has proved he has a thick skin over the course of his three campaigns against Netanyahu, in which he was subjected to volleys of character assassination from Likud. He’ll need that thick skin now, both to take the criticism of his disappointed voters and partners in the political system, and much more later, when he goes through a series of humiliations and harassments in Netanyahu’s government. He should ask his childhood friend from the moshav, Yisrael Katz, what powers and influence a foreign minister has under Bibi. (None.)

Gantz’s main contribution to Israeli politics was breaking the Jewish parties’ boycott on the Arab community’s elected representatives. He was the first, and so far the only one, to have his picture taken with Joint List leaders Ayman Odeh and Ahmad Tibi, and to be recommended to the president by all the its factions – even Balad – as their candidate for prime minister. They presumably didn’t think they supported Gantz so that he could set up a government for Netanyahu. Life is full of surprises. But after Gantz, it will be easier for future “center-left” leaders to do business with the Joint List.

Yair Lapid, who will be chairman of the opposition from now on, made a rare comeback as leader of the rival political bloc. Lapid proved his credibility, and that he sticks to the goal, when he agreed to give up the prime ministerial rotation with Gantz, when he supported the deal with the Joint List (although, unlike Gantz, he didn’t have a picture taken with its leaders), and when he refused to enter Netanyahu’s government. As far as Lapid is concerned, he has shaken Gantz and Ashkenazi off his back and will now have time to build himself up as a leadership alternative for the day after Netanyahu, in the spirit of Ariel Sharon’s rule – “the main thing is to remain at the wheel.”

The biggest loser from Gantz’s defection is Avigdor Lieberman, who was seen in the past year as the kingmaker of Israeli politics, and as Netanyahu’s grim executioner. Now Lieberman will remain leader of a negligible opposition party, and at most will be a commentator from his usual seat on “Meet the Press” or other Saturday interviews.

Lieberman had a chance to kick Netanyahu out had he agreed to a minority government with the support of the Joint List after September’s election, in which the right received only 55 Knesset seats. But he was afraid, or he believed his own slogans against the Arabs. By the time he agreed to that course, after the last election, the power balance was reversed and he was left with nothing.

And Netanyahu will laugh last.