Opinion

Netanyahu’s Aim Is Clear

Benjamin Netanyahu visiting military positions in northern Galilee, Israel, January 13, 2019
Ariel Hermoni / Israel Defense Ministry

Benjamin Netanyahu believes that any sin can be wiped away with a “good argument.” The argument needn’t go along with things that were said beforehand. Throughout his last campaign, he aimed to rule out a unity government with Kahol Lavan. He sought a government of 61, and when he failed, he reexamined the cards he held. Since that failure he has sounded set on forming a national unity government, and has even been claiming that this was the objective from the start.

First, he asserted that a unity government was impossible because of Yair Lapid’s insistence on sticking to his rotation agreement with Gantz. As soon as Lapid announced that he would forgo the rotation, Netanyahu, without missing a beat, said, “there won’t be a unity government because Gantz doesn’t want it.”

Netanyahu’s strategic goal is to bring about another election. The campaign is not being run by top Likud figures – It’s being run by an unrestrained young bunch that tells Netanyahu, “act in an extreme manner, otherwise you’ll go to jail,” and gets him to issue statements against the judicial system that could have been written by criminal boss Yitzhak Abergil.

The incumbent prime minister, who is holding a whole country by the balls, could face a new election at quite a difficult time for him: while facing indictments, a serious diplomatic-security situation and an economic crisis.

None of that stops him from his crazy extremist outbursts against our civil institutions. It often seems that, in Netanyahu’s view, the State Prosecutor’s Office and the Police are not part of the regime, but rather part of a plot to replace the Israeli government.

Several things to keep in mind: One, that Netanyahu is aiming for another election that will buy him more time in power, without having to consider the will of the voters. Two, that his campaign will stoop to the lowest level, with no-holds-barred.

And three, that nothing will hinder him from wreaking havoc on the legal and judicial system.

Gantz is another story. He did not build himself up as a forceful figure in the IDF, he came into the election campaign as a new and intriguing candidate, but without much drama. He came across as the antithesis of Netanyahu – thoughtful, reliable and inspiring confidence.

No other candidate from Kahol Lavan could have conveyed the same feeling. Netanyahu’s campaign will seek to peg him as the saboteur of a national unity government. The first indications are already evident:

He’s being accused of not respecting the plan outlined by the president (which, I confess, I don’t quite understand, either). Bibi is clinging to the honor of the president he detests just for the sake of disparaging Gantz.

Benny Gantz (L) before receiving the mandate to form a government from president Rivlin , October 23, 2019
AFP

It’s clear that Netanyahu is aiming for a third election, and while it’s not clear if he’ll succeed, Gantz must act as if another election is in the offing. It’s quite easy to pin the responsibility for a third election on Netanyahu – with his establishment of the right-wing bloc and having the chutzpah to demand that he go first in the rotation even though his party came in second.

Now that he has been tasked with forming the government, Gantz can be more creative.

He must stipulate that he will not be part of a unity government that is politically extremist and hostile to the rule of law; that Ayelet Shaked and Bezalel Smotrich may not be partners in any government he would form. He could demand that Netanyahu agree to minimum conditions for the Haredim to be part of the coalition: core curriculum studies and the conscription legislation that is very close to agreement. Netanyahu would be forced to respond, and the picture he would present would serve the opposition parties, including Avigdor Lieberman.

If there is another election, Gantz will have to aim for a larger victory at the polls, a victory that will defeat Netanyahu once and for all.