After shocking reversal by Netanyahu’s rival, Israelis wait to see shape of new gov’t

Political dust still settling in wake of shocking turnaround by opposition leader Benny Gantz; Netanyahu yet to reveal other coalition partners.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

Israelis still have to wait until next week to see how Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will put together a new unity government, but his new partner Benny Gantz said Friday he was at peace with his decision to join forces with his former foe.

“On this day I am more whole than ever,” Gantz tweeted. “I am whole because I did what my people needed.”

Three inconclusive national elections in the past year showed neither Gantz and his opposition Blue and White Party nor Netanyahu’s Likud Party could muster a majority to form a government. Gantz had rejected calls for a national unity government under Netanyahu, saying repeatedly he would never do so.

But in a pressure cooker situation between the coronavirus crisis and apparent polls showing he would fare badly in a fourth election, Gantz tossed in the towel Thursday and announced he would join Netanyahu.

In a long posting on his Facebook page, Gantz pushed aside criticism he had betrayed his voters and said the nation needed its leaders leave the political fighting behind.

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“At this time, leaders need to choose what is right and put the existing investments and personal issues aside,” Gantz wrote.

However, Gantz’s words failed to satisfy either his former political partners or some Israeli reporters.

Yesh Atid Knesset member Meir Cohen was angry at Gantz for flipping so quickly from being the one in charge of forming a new government to agreeing to sit in the government with Netanyahu.

“He was too weak,” Meir told Kan News, adding his party would have supported a Netanyahu government from the opposition benches for six months during the corona crisis, but Gantz made too quick a decision. Although Gantz got the mandate last week to form a new government, Meir said Gantz negotiated from the get-go for a unity government headed by Netanyahu.

Veteran political reporter Barak Ravid tweeted that in “a long, apologetic post, Gantz did not give smallest answer as to why he breached his promise to his million voters and entered the government with Netanyahu. He knows why.”

After apparent backroom negotiations on Thursday, a political stalemate was broken when Gantz was sworn in as Knesset Speaker. He is only expected to hold the position for a few days before Netanyahu presents his new unity government and will most likely become defense minister.

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The unity agreement calls for a rotation in which Netanyahu remains leader for 18 months and then hands the reins over to Gantz. Israeli media reports say cabinet portfolios will be divided equally between Netanyahu’s right wing bloc and Gantz’s Israel Resilience Party, including fellow former IDF chief-of-staff Gabi Ashkenazi becoming foreign minister.

The details to be decided include who gets which key cabinet positions, the detailed text of the coalition agreements and the obligations that Netanyahu and Gantz will both have to agree to, and just what will happen in 18 months when Netanyahu will have to step down.

There is still the possibility that the coalition government may not last and another round of elections will be needed.

For the past two weeks Gantz painted no good options. A minority government option with the external parliamentary support of the Joint (Arab) List was scuttled by opposition from the backbenches of Blue and White and Yisrael Beitenu. A fourth election was deemed too big a risk by Gantz due to ostensibly declining poll numbers and the uncertainty surrounding the date for such an election because of coronavirus.

Israeli political analysts had different takes on why Gantz reversed his well-known position to never serve in a government under Netanyahu.

“Gantz lost trust in Netanyahu … While he has not regained it, the coronavirus outbreak made him realize there was no choice but to start compromising,” wrote Jerusalem Post veteran political reporter Gil Hoffman.

Haviv Rettig Gur of the Times of Israel gave the harsh assessment that “Gantz knows he has given up everything, and probably even that he is exceedingly unlikely to reach the prime minister’s chair.”  Rettig Gur says Gantz does not appear to have changed his opinion of Netanyahu but realized he was going nowhere as head of Blue and White.

James Sorene, head of the British pro-Israel organization BICOM, said Netanyahu emerged the big winner: “This is a clear victory for Netanyahu: destroying the only real alternative to his rule, forcing Gantz to backtrack on all of his political promises, and most importantly remaining Prime Minister until September 2021.”