Gantz: I wouldn’t join Netanyahu government even to push through Saudi normalization

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

National Unity party leader Benny Gantz speaks during a faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, May 15, 2023. (Yonatan SIndel/Flash90)
National Unity party leader Benny Gantz speaks during a faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, May 15, 2023. (Yonatan SIndel/Flash90)

National Unity chairman Benny Gantz says he will not join Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hardline government in order to help push a normalization agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia over the finish line.

Netanyahu has placed securing such a deal at the top of his agenda, but Saudi officials have conveyed to US brokers that an agreement will require a significant Israeli gesture to the Palestinians, in addition to major American security and economic assurances for Riyadh, a senior US official told The Times of Israel in May.

Given that MKs from every coalition party, particularly the far-right Otzma Yehudit and Religious Zionism factions, are ideologically opposed to advancing Palestinian sovereignty, Netanyahu may well be blocked from signing off on the type of move toward a two-state solution that Riyadh will likely demand in exchange for normalizing ties with Israel.

During an event at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Gantz was asked whether his 12-seat opposition party would be willing to swap out some of the more hardline elements of the coalition if they threaten to leave the government in the event that such a normalization proposal is signed.

Gantz said that he would provide a “strategic backup” for the government, indicating that he would vote in favor of such a deal from the opposition.

“I think that peace is always a good trend for the State of Israel, and if it needed my backup for that, it will get my backup for that, but I will not get into this government,” he said, speaking in English.

Pressed on why he was refusing to do so, Gantz said he could not ignore the political events of the last three years, referencing his decision in 2020 to form a unity government with Netanyahu only for the Likud leader to collapse the coalition before Gantz was slated to replace him in line with their rotational agreement.

“I think that I should not join Netanyahu who betrayed my confidence,” Gantz said.

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