Opinion

Gantz, Drive Netanyahu Crazy and Save the Day

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin attending a ceremony in Jerusalem, October 22, 2019.
Menahem Kahana / AFP

Sources in Likud dismissed the dramatic statements by former Coalition Chairman David Bitan. “I believe that all the blocs will fall apart – the bloc on the left and the bloc on the right …. Each will be willing to do something to avoid an election,” Bitan told Channel 12 News. Bitan, a man who loves to play with the media, and he’s not bad at it, also said there’s a weak link in the right-wing bloc. About a half an hour after the interview, Likud released an order prohibiting party members from being interviewed.

Bitan was once the man closest to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. At the height of their relationship, Bitan received a clear promise that he would be appointed a minister. (An amusing story made the rounds in Likud that appointing him minister with a potential indictment on the horizon wouldn’t look good.)

Today they have no relationship, sources in Likud say, so there’s no need to treat Bitan’s statement with any seriousness. According to those sources, Bitan’s need to provide headlines in his frequent interviews tangles him up in baseless statements. The right-wing bloc is as strong as steel, they reiterate, because everyone has an interest in its survival. They have each other’s backs.

But even if Bitan is talking out of his hat, he’s excellent, as usual, at political analysis. He identifies the only pragmatic solution to ending the current stalemate and avoiding a third election, which has a good chance of leading us right back to where we started, but with a bigger mess.

The solution is a unity government of Likud and Benny Gantz's Kahol Lavan with Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu or the ultra-Orthodox, with Netanyahu apparently as prime minister. There would also be conditions for declaring the incapacitation of the prime minister and a rotation agreement for the premiership. (Kahol Lavan’s greatest fear, and the source of its objection to the president’s unity plan, is that Netanyahu wouldn't give up his seat despite any agreement. That’s not the most baseless fear in the world.)

To go for this painful compromise each side would have to sacrifice something: Netanyahu would have to agree at some point to give up what to him is his divine right – the premiership – and Kahol Lavan would have to sit in a government with him despite its pledge to its voters. Netanyahu’s greatest achievement would be serving as prime minister and dealing with the expected indictments from that office. Kahol Lavan’s greatest achievement would be dismantling the right-wing bloc and removing Netanyahu from the arena at some point.

Kahol Lavan, whose political acumen has proved pretty decent, has no mandate to enter a government with an achievement any less than the one mentioned above, and even that wouldn't pass muster with some of its voters. In this context, we should be fair and praise Labor-Gesher leaders Amir Peretz and Orli Levi-Abekasis, who, it was repeatedly said, would save the Netanyahu government in a secret deal. But they haven’t gone offside. If they had, we’d now be in a bad and bitter place – with a terrible government bolstered by social democrats.

Even though the right-wing bloc pledges loyalty oaths to Netanyahu morning, noon and night, Kahol Lavan is in a better bargaining position, thus it can and should press harder. For the first time in more than a decade, Netanyahu isn’t in control, which is agonizing for a man afflicted by such a bad case of paranoia.

This should be Gantz's strategy in the near future: Drive Netanyahu crazy, even if he’s already crazy. He can take lessons from his new friend – Lieberman, who’s a specialist in this. Once a trick of his led to a mass loyalty oath. A government probably won’t come out of this, but you have to enjoy life sometimes.