Explained | Can Gantz Overcome a Divide Within His Party and Oust Netanyahu?

The divide in Kahol Lavan over the possibility of a Gantz-led minority government backed by Arab parties is ideological, but also tactical

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Israeli men walking past a Kahol Lavan electoral poster featuring Benny Gantz and Benjamin Netanyahu, Haifa, February 23, 2020.
Israeli men walking past a Kahol Lavan electoral poster featuring Benny Gantz and Benjamin Netanyahu, Haifa, February 23, 2020.Credit: Oded Balilty,AP
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

Israel’s latest election divided its opposition party, Kahol Lavan, into two camps. One side, headed by party leader Benny Gantz, seeks a minority government supported by the Arab Joint List. Gantz is supported by Yair Lapid and even Moshe Ya’alon, who is more right-wing than the rest. They see it as the most effective way to oust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The fourth member of the so-called “cockpit” leading the party, Gabi Ashkenazi, still hasn’t publicly revealed his position on the issue.

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The other side includes hardliners Yoaz Hendel and Zvi Hauser and views reliance on the Joint List as an ideological break and betrayal of campaign promises. Moreover, they see the move as opening the way toward an Israel as a country of all its citizens rather than as a Jewish state. They also fear such a move would strengthen Netanyahu. Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman also ascribes to this view, but has yet to announce whether he'd back a minority government.

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Why do Kahol Lavan hardliners oppose a minority government backed by the Joint List?

The split is not only ideological but also tactical. Most Kahol Lavan members see a coalition backed by the Joint List as the doomsday weapon to eliminate Netanyahu politically. However, the other side believes the chances are slim, and if it does work out it will eventually benefit Netanyahu.

In the scenario foreseen by Hauser and Hendel, a minority government would last a year at best, and centerist voters, upset by the move, would sweep Netanyahu and the right back into power. Others in Kahol Lavan see the move to form a minority government as unrealistic but good for pressuring Netanyahu.

Kahol Lavan lawmakers Zvi Hauser and Yoaz Hendel in the Knesset.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

Are there alternatives to a Gantz-led government?

Some in Kahol Lavan, those who oppose a minority government, have been pushing behind closed doors for a broad government coalition with Netanyahu's Likud.

Kahol Lavan’s condition in this case would be making Gantz first in the premiership rotation. The upshot is that Netanyahu would not be able to serve as a minister in Gantz’s government while his trial is underway. They believe Netanyahu is likely to agree to the offer if it becomes clear to him that he won't get immunity from prosecution.

Is there a chance Hauser and Hendel will fold?

The two are putting the brakes on the party chairman and limiting the acting power of the center-left bloc, but legislators cannot be fired, and Gantz prefers at this stage to embrace them rather than to challenge them publicly.

Kahol Lavan officials do not expect the two to fold and thus say that there's a slim chance for a minority government. Hauser and Hendel aren’t alone. Other Kahol Lavan legislators told Haaretz they were critical of the emerging cooperation with the Joint List, but they don’t intend for now to actively oppose the move. It remains unclear whether Hauser and Hendel will resign of their own accord before the vote or if they will vote against the party that got them into the Knesset.

What about Avigdor Lieberman?

Lieberman still hasn’t expressed public support for a government that is supported by the Joint List. He has previously openly objected to the idea. Close associates say his recent silence isn’t coincidental. Lieberman made his goal clear last week – he wants to pass a law that forbids an indicted candidate from forming the coalition.

Lieberman demands that the law apply to the current Knesset, while Kahol Lavan prefers having it go into effect in the next Knesset, so as to not appear petty. Kahol Lavan officials also wonder whether the law is a meaningless ploy by Lieberman, considering that Netanyahu could repeal it if he gets 61 Knesset members to support him.

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