Analysis

Gantz Took Netanyahu's Favorite Trick — and Used It Against Him

When the Kahol Lavan leader presented Netanyahu waiving immunity as a condition to forming a unity government, he hit the defendant from Balfour Street in his soft underbelly

Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter
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Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz at his party faction meeting, December 9, 2019.
Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz at his party faction meeting, December 9, 2019. Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter

Say what you may about the leaders of Kahol Lavan, one fact is incontrovertible: They’ve learned how to do politics. In one photo-op at the Knesset, Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid managed to hit two birds with one stone. They caught the master of tricks Benjamin Netanyahu unprepared, while neutralizing one of his most effective weapons, ahead of the March 2020 election campaign – which officially starts at midnight on Wednesday, but which in fact is already in full swing.

Gantz’s offer to Netanyahu – that the latter give up his quest for immunity in exchange for “opening a dialogue” – was one of those quips the addressee has turned into an art form. Its whole purpose was to put Kahol Lavan's rival on the defensive, while in practice being a non-starter. Gantz, after several discussions with Netanyahu, understood that the latter has no intention of relinquishing his quest for immunity, just as he has no intention of giving up his current post. No, not even after six months (as was floated as an option by some).

Immunity and recusal don’t go together; they’re like oil and water, like two trains rushing forward on parallel tracks. If Netanyahu intended to keep his word – which he hasn’t admitted to yet, except through his emissaries at the negotiations – there would be no point in insisting on his right to appeal to the Knesset committee in search of immunity.

Thus, when Gantz passes him the immunity waiver card as a condition for forming a unity government, he achieves two goals: he hits Netanyahu in his soft underbelly, the issue on which the accused from Balfour Street does not have the support of the majority of voters, namely, continuing to rule with an indictment over his head; and he also gains points in the blame game regarding the identity of the person most responsible for Israel sliding into a third election in one year.

The response by the fastest draw in the west was slow in coming. When it came, it looked drab and unimpressive: Again, the same hackneyed phrases about a “defense pact with the U.S.” and the “annexation of wide swathes of Judea and Samaria,” along with a call, an exhortation, more like a desperate plea to Avigdor Lieberman to “open accelerated negotiations” for forming a right-wing government. Yes, that should convince Lieberman.

Yair Lapid at a Kahol Lavan faction meeting, December 9, 2019.
Yair Lapid at a Kahol Lavan faction meeting, December 9, 2019. Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Regarding Lapid: The rotation agreement he pulled out of, again, had exacted a heavy price, costing Kahol Lavan two to four projected Knesset seats. The most effective slogan Likud had was the mocking “Prime Minister Yair Lapid.” These words sounded delusional and worrisome to a large majority of Israeli voters, including the moderate right-wing voters targeted by the party of former generals.

The numbers speak, or shout, loudly: Whereas Gantz is steadily closing the gap between him and Netanyahu in polls asking about suitability as prime minister – he’s already passed the 30 percent point – the numbers Lapid garners are close to the margin of statistical error, hovering around three to four percent. His story is over; the party’s over and he knows it. There is only one candidate for prime minister in the center-left camp and that’s Gantz, just like Netanyahu is the only candidate on the right.

Three days ago, Haaretz's Hebrew edition reported about a dispute in Kahol Lavan regarding the rotation agreement with Lapid, but on Monday, the leader of Yesh Atid did the right thing, twice over: it was in his party’s best interest as well as his own. Now no one can blame him, his childishness or his ego, for bearing any responsibility for the results to come.

What we saw on Monday was presumably part of a deal: Lapid, who cast a veto on entering a unity government under Netanyahu (in contrast to the clear inclination to do so on the part of Gantz and Gaby Ashkenazi), paid for this by giving up the radioactive rotation agreement.

He didn’t only prevent something, he built something: The warm embrace he received from Gantz at the end of his statement was proof of that.