Touring the Gaza Border, Gantz Still Favors National Unity, but Not at All Costs

Meeting between Gantz and kingmaker Avigdor Lieberman reported due to situation in Gaza, with one week to go before deadline to form government

Benny Gantz in Sderot, November 13, 2019
Eliyahu Hershkovitz

National unity “is supposed to serve more than a specific event, however grave,” Kahol Lavan Chairman Benny Gantz said Wednesday.

“Unity is very important,” he said during a tour of Sderot, near the border with the Gaza Strip. “I call for unity all the time and try to promote unity.”

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Nevertheless, he added, “There are many important things in Israel. There are values, there are principles, there’s the law, there are democratic issues. I don’t advise taking one specific event and wrapping everything up with it.”

While he said the decision to assassinate senior Islamic Jihad official Baha Abu al-Ata on Tuesday was the right one, it “won’t affect political developments.”

Gantz is scheduled to meet with Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman on Thursday to discuss the options for establishing a unity government. Lieberman met Wednesday with President Reuven Rivlin, whose outline for a unity government Gantz has rejected.

Lieberman told Channel 12 News Wednesday night that he doesn’t see a unity government backed from outside by the predominantly Arab Joint List as a realistic option, but refused to deny outright that he would support such a government. Lieberman said there were options for creating a unity government without help from the Joint List, which he called a “fifth column.” Lieberman did not dismiss the possibility of the ultra-Orthodox parties joining such a government, “on the basis of the existing budget and the government guidelines.”

Gantz’s mandate to form a government will expire next Wednesday. Last weekend, Lieberman demanded that Gantz accept Rivlin’s proposal for a rotation government, under which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would serve as prime minister first but would declare himself incapacitated if indicted, allowing Gantz to take over as acting prime minister.

Earlier this week, Shas Chairman Arye Dery reportedly promised Gantz that his party would quit the government if Netanyahu didn’t honor the rotation agreement, in an effort to persuade Gantz to agree to a unity government that included the right-wing and Haredi parties.

But Kahol Lavan is divided over the idea of a unity government with Netanyahu. Gantz leans toward accepting the president’s proposal, if a way can be found to ensure that Netanyahu honors its terms and in fact declares himself incapacitated if indicted. But Kahol Lavan’s No. 2, Yair Lapid, vehemently opposes the idea, saying that Netanyahu can’t be trusted.

Haaretz Cartoon
Amos Biderman

Various ideas for ensuring compliance with the agreement were discussed in negotiations between Kahol Lavan and Netanyahu’s Likud. These ranged from a resignation letter that Netanyahu would sign in advance to legislation requiring a prime minister who is indicted to declare himself incapacitated.

Gantz and Lieberman had been scheduled to meet Tuesday but the meeting was put off due to the security situation. Before the postponement, Gantz had said, “We’ll be willing to consider certain comprises, as long as they’re based on our worldview and serve Israel.”