Where Are You Going, Benny Gantz?

Benny Gantz speaks during a news conference in Washington, Monday, Jan. 27, 2020, after meeting with President Donald Trump.
AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana

Now that Benjamin Netanyahu has withdrawn his immunity bid, removing the obstacles to launching legal proceedings against him, the rationale behind publication of Trump’s deal of the century has dissipated.

But all this does not undermine a need to remark about the saga that has unfolded before our eyes at this jolly time in Washington.

Haaretz Weekly Ep. 58Haaretz

The U.S. president in the throes of an impeachment trial has invited a prime minister facing three indictments to present him with a life raft – and Israel is overjoyed. Not because of the shady deal of the century nor Trump’s blunt interference in our election, but because of Benny Gantz’s success in extricating himself from the “Netanyahu trap” to snag a separate meeting with the U.S. president.

The fact that the Israeli election has been moved to Washington, that the prime minister has turned annexing the Jordan Valley into a propaganda ploy, that his terrified competitor is supporting annexation with all his heart and soul, and that this political alternative is promising more of the same, perhaps except for the corruption, doesn’t ignite any public concern. The Israeli voter will continue to run around in the same trap while deciding between the two ideological allies whose differences have so been blurred that they’ve become a single two-headed entity.

You can already hear the analyses of who won on the trip to Washington, how much time Trump devoted to one compared to the other, whose shoulder he patted and to whom did he turn the cold shoulder, and whose performance was best.

And that’s not all. In a few days or weeks there will be a “gift” from Moscow, when Naama Issachar lands in Israel. The hostage of the election campaign will fulfill her role completely by thanking both world leaders, Vladimir Putin and Benjamin Netanyahu, for their tremendous efforts to get her released. What Trump is permitted to do certainly can’t be denied to Putin. For both of them prefer an Israeli prime minister that they can blackmail with gestures, or steal horses with. If the deal of the century and Issachar’s release can do the trick, then why not? For it’s only a backdrop, not any Trump political vision or any acts of mercy on the part of Putin the warden.

The Israeli complaints about the price of three elections have mainly to do with the financial cost and government paralysis, but it cannot even quantify the tremendous damage done to the country that has become a banana republic and a secondary actor in the struggle between two world powers. There aren’t any European, Arab, Turkish or Chinese leaders boasting about having a close friendship with either Putin or Trump as proof of their leadership. In normal countries, being close to Trump is an embarrassment, if not shameful, and boasting about any close friendship with Putin is reason to become a laughing stock. Not in Israel.

Not that the United States wasn’t involved in any past election campaigns or that it hasn’t tried to impose its preferences on the Israeli public. But in the past this was done out of a concern or a vision of a peace process, for the sake of Israel’s values, while today it is intervening to try to ensure the continued tenure of someone accused of criminal wrongdoing. Neither the peace process nor Israeli values are of any interest to Trump. If Netanyahu loses reelection, Trump, after having placed all his bets on him, will see it as a personal affront. An investment that has gone down the tubes.

Putin didn’t invest anything. He grabbed a hostage and successfully negotiated before signing any release papers. Now Netanyahu will grab the hostage for himself. The police are quite familiar with this category of human trafficking.

In light of all this, it’s Gantz’s turn to show where he’s headed. He has already thrown in his dime by declaring he would do his all to ensure the success of Trump’s plan, but now, let’s be serious. Where is Gantz really headed? To annexation? To apply Israeli law to the West Bank? To tussle with the Palestinians and the international community, or to propose a policy based on common sense, free of fantasy?