Israel Goes for Unity, Blue and White is No More

March 26, 2020
From left: Benny Gantz; Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Photos by Amir Cohen/Reuters

1.  Benny Gantz made his decision. Under the current circumstances it would be irresponsible to send Israel to a fourth election. His Blue and White partner, Yair Lapid, made a different decision. He still refuses to sit with Prime Minister Netanyahu in a government. The result: Blue and White is splitting after about a year of existence. Gantz, and his twenty Members of Knesset, will join Netanyahu’s government. Gantz will serve as Netanyahu’s deputy and Foreign Minister. His B&W fellow, General Gabi Ashkenazi, will be Defense Minister (the final details are still negotiated). The agreement says that after and year and a half, Gantz will replace Netanyahu and become the Prime Minister. The rest is commentary.


2. Good generals are the ones who have luck. Netanyahu was lucky. He used one crisis to solve another. And while beating the Coronavirus is beyond his ability, beating his rivals became possible. The people wanted unity, Gantz was out of real options.


3. So, what is Lapid’s game? He also used a crisis to solve a crisis. His crisis was personal: he wanted to be the alternative to Netanyahu but for the last year had to accept a less-than-ideal arrangement with Gantz. When the general joins Netanyahu, Lapid becomes the main leader of the opposition. He hopes to be there when the next round of elections materializes.


4. What is Netanyahu’s game? Who knows? The agreement with Gantz commits him to evacuate the PM’s office after a year and a half and let Gantz become the PM. Will this really happen? A year and a half is a long time, and Gantz, as the second-fiddler head of a party of twenty, does not have much leverage over the PM. Netanyahu might decide that Gantz is no longer a threat and that he no longer needs to keep his promise. He also might decide to evacuate the PM’s office and quit politics. In such case, the leaders of Likud could decide that the partnership with Gantz hurts them.


5. Ultimately, the bloc was more resilient than Blue and White. Why? Because it has a leader that no one dared challenge. And because it was ideologically coherent, while Blue and White was more about what’s not (Netanyahu) than about clear ideology.


6. The new coalition sends another important message to the public and to all politicians: it is probably still too early to dream about a coalition that includes the Arab Joint List. Gantz toyed with the idea, and that was his eventual undoing. The coalition did not materialize, and he realized that another round of election would be impossible for him to win – because this time he will have no way of telling the voters that an alliance with the Arabs is not his true intention.


7. A unity government is what Israelis want and need. In half a year, or a year, when things go back to normal, they might reconsider their position. But for now, when they are all preoccupied with a deadly virus, they have little patience for petty games of politics. So, for most of them, even those among them who can’t stand the PM, this is good news.

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