Gantz Must Try a Government With Israel's Arabs

It’s the clearly preferable alternative to any other option, including a fourth election

Raviv Drucker
Raviv Drucker
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Kahol Lavan party leader Benny Gantz speaks to supporters following the announcement of exit polls in Israel's election at the party's headquarters in Tel Aviv, Israel March 3, 2020.
Kahol Lavan party leader Benny Gantz speaks to supporters following the announcement of exit polls in Israel's election at the party's headquarters in Tel Aviv, Israel March 3, 2020.Credit: CORINNA KERN/REUTERS
Raviv Drucker
Raviv Drucker

Benny Gantz’s strategic adviser, Yisrael Bachar, charted the campaign’s recent direction: rightward. The findings of his study demonstrated that there is a way to bring two seats from the other side, on condition that Kahol Lavan keep a distance from the Arabs. And so it was said there were no negotiations with the Joint List (a lie), there won’t be negotiations, we don’t recognize Arabs.

One third of the Kahol Lavan electorate, claimed Bachar, consists of right-wingers, and he even tried to recommend to the party that Gantz’s election promise would be to annex the settlement blocs. Bachar firmly asserted, based on surveys, that even a promise by Gantz that there would be a professional Arab minister in his government wouldn’t go down well with many Kahol Lavan voters.

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And then Kahol Lavan went rightward, spoke about a Jewish majority, welcomed Donald Trump’s “deal of the century,” sent nationalist MK Yoaz Hendel to be interviewed, dreamed about votes from the religious Zionist community, and ended up with no additional seats.

For Gantz there is a considerable risk in forming a minority government that will rely on 12 seats from the Joint List. There is quite a good chance that no party in the right-wing bloc would join even after half a year, and that such a government would soon be forced into an election against a hungry opposition leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, who will celebrate their link with Joint List MKs Ayman Odeh and Ahmad Tibi.

But despite the risk, Gantz has to make every effort to achieve just that. It’s the clearly preferable alternative to any other option.

One alternative is a fourth election – madness for the general public and a tremendous risk for Kahol Lavan, which has apparently just about exhausted its ability to maintain the unnatural connections that it includes. Another alternative is a national unity government. Likud Minister Yariv Levin said in public that an offer like that made to Kahol Lavan in the previous round will not be made again. Kahol Lavan turned down that offer, which meant six months of Netanyahu. It is doubtful whether it would accept it today. It certainly won’t agree to less.

Gantz can try to form a minority government in the guise of an “emergency government.” In such a government he would have to agree on several laws and plans with his partners – the conversion law, a revocation of the “minimarket law” (regarding keeping businesses open on Shabbat), civil marriage, revocation of the Kaminitz Law (which would reduce house demolitions in Arab villages), a pension for new immigrants and plants for strengthening personal security in the Arab community.

Such a government also represents a big opportunity. The crazy scare tactics against Joint List MK Ahmad Tibi, namely the claim that he is preventing military operations in Gaza, will come to an end. Including the Joint List in the government won’t seem so terrible. The persecution of the law enforcement system and the media will stop. Benjamin Netanyahu’s trial will progress. It is possible that even his greatest fans will admit to themselves that there are other people who can head the government without destroying it. That’s saying something.

Gantz’s real problem is within his party. Yisrael Beitenu chairman Avigdor Lieberman is signaling that he could swallow a minority government. Odeh, Tibi, Mansour Abbas and Mtanes Shehadeh are far from being in Gantz’s pocket, but if he stops hesitating and starts to woo them, there’s a good chance he can recruit 12 votes in favor and three abstentions.

But in the previous round, Yoaz Hendel and Zvi Hauser destroyed the option of a minority government. Hendel tweeted his objections publicly, and greatly weakened Gantz’s negotiating position. Lieberman retreated, Hendel was reprimanded and Gantz was furious. Gantz, as is his wont, did not take the obvious step of removing the two from the slate. Now he’s stuck with them. Meanwhile they are at least keeping silent in public, but they are clearly opposed.

Their opinion is legitimate; their presence in Kahol Lavan somewhat less so. If Gantz manages to make a reasonable offer for a national unity government with Likud, that may also serve to soften them up. If Netanyahu agrees, so much the better. If not, perhaps Hendel and Hauser would also prefer the option of a minority government over a fourth election campaign.

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