Israel: Gantz has little time left to unseat Netanyahu

Bloomberg Tel Aviv | Updated on November 20, 2019

Benny Gantz, a former Israeli armed forces chief and head of Israel Resilience party (File photo)   -  REUTERS

Wednesday is Benny Gantz’s last day to cobble together a coalition, and his options are problematic.

It is a fateful day for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his political future hanging on whether his political rival will pull off the improbable, and unseat him by forming a government.

Wednesday is former military chief Benny Gantz’s last day to cobble together a coalition, and his only options are problematic. He can team up with Netanyahu’s Likud party in a national unity government and cave in to the Prime Minister’s demands to hang on to power even if he is taken to court on corruption charges. That is something Gantz has vowed not to do.

His second option — forming a minority government — is weak to begin with, and will also depend on the support of two parties that might not grant it. He has until midnight to come up with a solution, or possibly set in motion an unprecedented third vote.

The political stalemate has limited the country’s ability to fix urgent problems like the budget deficit, an antiquated transportation system and overcrowded hospitals, while frustrating efforts by the Trump administration to unveil its West Asian peace plan.

No agreement

Gantz and Netanyahu appeared to be no closer to agreement after they met late Tuesday. Netanyahu alleged that Gantz brazenly lied to his constituents about his motives, just hours after urging him to join forces and seize the one-time opportunity to annex West Bank land opened by the Trump administrations adoption of Israel’s benevolent view of settlements there.

The General accused Netanyahu of being a unity rejectionist, and doing all he can to drag the nation to a third election in the space of a year.

In the meantime, there is been no sign Gantz is making progress on his other option.

To form a minority government, he would need the support of both former Defence Minister Avigdor Liberman — a nationalist whose refusal to team up with Netanyahu after the April 9 election set the September 17 revote in motion — and legislators from the Joint List of Arab parties, which represents Israel’s Arab minority.

They would have to agree to back Gantz in parliamentary votes without actually joining his coalition, but there is bad blood between them.

Netanyahu, who had made riling up voters against Arab Israelis a campaign fixture, has crusaded against the possibility of a Gantz-led government supported by the Joint List, calling it an existential threat to Israel.

Third try

Should Gantz come up short, the ball goes to parliament’s court, where any member — including Netanyahu and Gantz — can try to form a majority government.

That could be possible if Liberman shifts gears and suddenly realigns with Netanyahu, or if Likud, against the odds, shunts Netanyahu aside and lines up behind another party member, allowing Gantz to join forces.

Failing that, Israel would then set a date for a third vote in less than a year, with polls showing yet another deadlock between Gantz and Netanyahu.

Voter sentiment could change, however, after Attorney General Avihai Mandelblit decides whether to indict Netanyahu in three corruption cases. While bribery and fraud charges are widely anticipated, an actual indictment could hurt the Prime Minister at the polls. Netanyahu would likely cruise to another term if the cases are dropped.

Israeli media have reported that a decision could come as soon as next week and by mid-December at the latest.

Though Netanyahu denies wrongdoing, he is angling to change Israeli law to grant sitting Prime Ministers immunity from prosecution. For this reason, he has been less willing to compromise than Gantz, analysts say.

Published on November 20, 2019

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