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The Gantz must be crazy: 6 things to know for March 27

Benny Gantz joins Netanyahu, eliciting indignant anger from his former boosters, and a whole lot of questions from everyone else

Blue and White party chairman Benny Gantz seen after voting at a voting station in Rosh HaAyin, during the Knesset Elections, on March 2, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Blue and White party chairman Benny Gantz seen after voting at a voting station in Rosh HaAyin, during the Knesset Elections, on March 2, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

1. What’s the deal? A year of political wrangling came to a seemingly sudden halt Thursday when the biggest challenge to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s rule fell apart as Benny Gantz, the one-time leader of the Blue and White party, appeared to forge a unity deal.

  • As of this writing, there is not yet a deal, but most reporting and punditry acts like there is one, and that it has been signed and sealed.
  • According to several reports, Netanyahu will remain at the country’s helm for the next 18 months, after which Gantz will become prime minister.
  • Channel 13 reports that until then, Gantz will be foreign minister, and his partner in crime, Gabi Ashkenazi will be defense minister.
  • But Channel 12 reports that Gantz’s people are pushing Gantz to take the defense job.
  • The reason: “They think the area will be less active during the coronavirus case, and Netanyahu always likes to be the uber-minister,” the channel reports.
  • Several reports indicate that Israel Resilience — Gantz’s party — expects to get the Justice Ministry as well, though there is apparently some nervousness that may not happen. “We won’t join at any price, but will demand that the justice system be protected. That’s a red line for us,” Blue and White MK Orit Farkash tells Army Radio.

2. Prenups and a messy divorce: A number of other issues also remain up in the air, such as what policies the government will support.

  • Ynet reports that Likud is pushing for IR to sign an agreement not to push any legislation that would make Netanyahu unable to be prime minister. At the same time, IR wants a commitment from Likud not to push a law that would give Netanyahu immunity.
  • According to Channel 12, IR wants Likud to agree that if elections are called before the 18 months are up, Gantz becomes prime minister in a transition government.
  • “If Netanyahu tries to cheat, there’s the possibility of a law that will make it so an indicted prime minister can’t be tasked with forming a government,” the channel says, summing up what it says is IR’s position.
  • Channel 13 reports that the divorce with Yesh Atid and Telem also has some kinks to work out, such as who gets the Blue and White name. While Lapid and Telem think they should get it because they are a bigger chunk of the old party, Gantz is trying to lure Telem’s Yoaz Hendel and Zvi Hauser over, which would then give him the advantage in that regard.
  • Except that, according to Yedioth Ahronoth, Yesh Atid and Telem have melded into one, meaning the two Telemites are actually two Yesh Telemites and don’t have the necessary one-third of the party needed to break off without incurring penalties, thus “trapping them in the opposition.”

3. How the Gantz was won: ToI’s Haviv Rettig Gur writes that the “serially underestimated” Gantz will try to make the best of his time as a PM-in-waiting by trying to keep the right-wing in check. “A great deal of the right’s most strident agenda will be in deep freeze or find itself actively reversed as long as the Netanyahu-Gantz partnership lasts.”

  • The analysis also gives a glimpse into why Gantz did what he did: In short, because he viewed saving the country from a fourth election while the coronavirus rages, as more important than the political maneuvering from his more stubborn allies, Yair Lapid and Moshe Ya’alon, as well Netanyahu’s own dirty politics.
  • “He believes he faces two Netanyahus, two politicians whose priorities, at the end of the day, he doesn’t share. One of them, Lapid, could not give him a stable coalition in the midst of a national crisis. The other, Netanyahu, could,” he writes.
  • Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer meanwhile writes that Gantz wasn’t so much sly as worn down and outmatched: “Netanyahu took advantage of Gantz’s sense of patriotism and exhaustion.”
  • According to Channel 13, things were also helped along by bad blood between Gantz and Lapid, after Gantz wanted to make himself speaker instead of Yesh Atid’s Meir Cohen. And things got even worse once Gantz found out that Lapid had already drawn up the divorce papers well before the current kerfuffle.
  • “The matter drew anger from Gantz’s people, but they are still trying to get a message to the Lapid people that they don’t want to burn the bridges, in case they need to work together again.”

4. Know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em: They are not alone in sensing that the marriage with Likud may not last. Blue and White’s Alon Schuster tells Kan radio that he hopes Netanyahu keeps his promise to hand over power in 18 months, but is not sure that will be the case.

  • Others are equally as unsure. ToI editor David Horovitz calls the move a “colossal political gamble,” a “leap of faith that will determine whether this relative political neophyte has in fact utilized an opportunity or been subverted, if not devoured, by the immensely more experienced Netanyahu.”
  • “Only time will tell if Gantz made the move of his life or the mistake of his life,” writes Channel 12’s Yaron Avraham, acknowledging the cliche.
  • Yuval Karni writes in Yedioth that the move is “Gantz’s gamble of his life,” noting that for the next 18 months, Netanyahu “can go back to putting out spin, tricks, and shtick, to not keep to the deal. Will he be short on reasons not to blow up the deal?”

5. So long as we can continue hating on Arabs: The right-wing celebrates what it (and everyone else) sees as a victory for Netanyahu and welcomes the once hated Gantz into the fold, while continuing to throw everything it can at the Joint List for some reason.

  • “Gantz prefered terror victims to Ahmad Tibi,” reads one headline in Israel Hayom, still pushing its politicization of people’s tragedies and the disqualification of the political will of one-fifth of the country.
  • Another columnist, Mati Tuchfeld, calls it Gantz’s Independence Day, even if the deal has more plot holes than the movie of the same name, and also finds it hard to totally shed his former talking points.
  • “Only those blinded by hate could argue for allowing the political logjam crippling Israeli politics to remain in place, or support the formation of a minority government whose existence hangs on the Joint Arab List,” he writes, before throwing in some healthy sycophantism. “The risk he took now is enormous: trusting the most experienced politician in the region, if not the world, and binding his political fate with that of Netanyahu’s has to be the toughest decision he has ever made.”
  • In Yedioth, Amit Segal joins in on the Joint List bashing in trying to explain Gantz’s move: “He understood that outside of twitter and some pundits, an anarchic government supported by Balad is the last thing Israel needs in the middle of a crisis.”

6. Liar, liar, Gantz on fire: That disregard is nothing, though, compared to unrighteous anger slung at Gantz for what those on the other side of the aisle feel to be the ultimate betrayal.

  • “Gantz betrayed a million voters,” writes Walla’s Amir Oren, calling him the Clyde to Netanyahu’s Bonnie and claiming that by petitioning the High Court against ex-Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein and then turning around and joining him, he weakened the court’s ability to disqualify Netanyahu.
  • “If [they don’t disqualify him] Gantz will go down not just as a weak, perfidious politician, but as one who deepened the corruption that he claimed to fight in order to lure hundreds of thousands of Israelis to trust him,” he adds.
  • “It’s hard to think of a more humiliating scenario for a party that began as an alternative to the corrupt and corrupting regime of Netanyahu and for its leader, a former military chief of staff, who was the first person in more than a decade to successfully challenge Netanyahu’s rule,” fumes Haaretz’s lead editorial.
  • “What a great deal: Steal a million votes from Netanyahu opponents, who saw Gantz as an alternative, and end his career as deputy of the one he called dictator, corrupt and the like,” the paper’s editor Aluf Benn writes.
  • He predicts that Gantz will need his thick skin “both to take the criticism of his disappointed voters and partners in the political system, and much more later, when he goes through a series of humiliations and harassment in Netanyahu’s government.”
  • Perhaps most devastatingly, Nahum Barnea in Yedioth portray’s Gantz as just a sad reflection of Israel: “He’s no traitor, and he’s no hero. He’s just someone from a generation of generals who never knew a victory in their careers, only ties.”
  • “Israel before everything,” he writes, mocking Gantz’s slogan. “And before that, Netanyahu.”
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