Middle East

In apparent victory for Netanyahu, rival Gantz drops allies, moves towards unity

The surprise move suggests Gantz will serve in a government led by the indicted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — which would break one of his key campaign promises. In the end, the coronavirus seems to have done what the country's politicians could not do by themselves: bring them together at a critical time to move the country forward. The longest-serving leader in Israel's history now appears set to continue in his role in the near future, with the backing of his main rival.Gantz had already been chosen to form a new government with the backing of the majority of the Knesset. His decision to become Speaker instead drew accusations of betrayal from his former supporters, and triggered the almost immediate break-up of the Blue and White party, formed a year ago and comprised of Gantz's Israel Resilience party and two smaller parties. The former IDF Chief of Staff now looks set to take Israel Resilience into Netanyahu's right-wing bloc to form a comfortable majority in the Knesset, Israel's parliament."I will do the right thing at this time of emergency," Gantz said in his first address from the Speaker's chair, striking a conciliatory tone in trying to explain his decision. "The people of Israel are justifiably looking to us and expecting us to keep supporting the sacred battle against the coronavirus and its effect. And no less justifiably, they are demanding that we safeguard our democracy, our national decorum and our unity."The decision to pursue a national emergency government is a clear victory for Netanyahu, who is set to remain Prime Minister, despite being indicted on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust and having failed to secure a governing majority after elections in April and September. He appeared to fall short once again after elections earlier this month, but Gantz's support should be more than Netanyahu needs to secure his own position.Even so, a unity government built around Gantz's faction and Netanyahu's Likud party is not guaranteed yet, as both groups need to come to an agreement. Netanyahu had not issued any statements about Gantz's decision as of late Thursday night, while his Likud party issued a short statement only saying, "Reports on the details of negotiations are purely rumors."For years, Netanyahu has enjoyed the aura of a political magician among his supporters, winning election after election and seeing off a steady stream of rivals, both from within his own party and from the outside. But his magic appeared to have finally run out when he failed to secure a clear governing majority in three consecutive elections over an eleven-month period.So this may go down as his greatest trick yet, turning his main political rival — who swore not to serve under an indicted Prime Minister — into exactly the support he needed to remain Israel's leader. Netanyahu now looks set to get his fifth term as Prime Minister.Gantz, who had campaigned on a slogan of "Israel before everything," said his decision was driven by the national interests in a time of emergency. "Every crisis includes an element of opportunity. And even in the throes of this crisis, as we fight the pandemic, we will use the opportunity to bolster our democracy and reinforce it," he said.A frequent critic of Netanyahu's attacks on the judiciary, the media, and the Arab citizens of Israel, Gantz suggested his participation in government could bring the Prime Minister to heel."We will get [Israel's] system of checks-and-balances back on track, we will put an end to the unrestrained attacks on our democracy on the part of irresponsible government ministers, we will dispose of schemes to harm the judicial branch, and we will heal the rifts tearing at our social fabric."There have been many unprecedented firsts over the course of the last year in Israeli politics: the first failure to form a government after an election, the first sitting Prime Minister indicted, the first "repeat" election, and more. But this may be the most extraordinary. A political leader who has won enough support to get first shot at forming a new government instead gets himself installed as Speaker of the Knesset, paving the way for his main rival to remain Prime Minister."These are unusual times and they call for unusual decision," Gantz said.One of his erstwhile closest allies in Blue and White, Yair Lapid, ripped Gantz's decision as a betrayal of the party's voters, saying, "Their votes were stolen and given as a gift to Netanyahu.""Benny Gantz decided today to break apart Blue and White and crawl into Netanyahu's government. It's a disappointing decision," Lapid said, speaking in Tel Aviv Thursday night. "What's being formed today isn't a unity government and not an emergency government. It's another Netanyahu government."Those more sympathetic to Gantz belRead More – Source