What happened: The opposition Blue and White party dramatically split yesterday afternoon after party leader Benny Gantz put himself forward as Knesset speaker in a bid to save a deal to create an emergency unity government with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
- Gantz and his Resilience party, along with former IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi, are expected to serve in a Netanyahu led government. Blue and White number two Yair Lapid and his Yesh Atid party, along with former IDF chief of staff Moshe “Bogie” Yaalon, will remain in opposition – and retain the Blue and White name.
- Gantz was overwhelmingly elected Knesset speaker with the votes of Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc after Lapid and other opposition parties boycotted the vote. The move by Gantz was intended to save unity talks with Netanyahu after he said that the election of Yesh Atid’s Meir Cohen MK as speaker would be a deal-breaker.
- Gantz is only expected to remain as Knesset Speaker for a short period of time before entering a Netanyahu government as, most likely, defence minister. After 18 months Gantz is supposed to become prime minister in a rotation deal with Netanyahu who will serve first as Prime Minister until September 2021 before handing over to Gantz.
- According to reports, the future government will divide ministerial posts equally between Netanyahu’s right wing bloc and Gantz’s allies, including Gabi Ashkenazi serving as foreign minister and another Resilience party member appointed Justice Minister.
- Lapid, Yaalon and other opposition members slammed Gantz’s move, with Lapid saying: “Benny Gantz surrendered without a battle and crawled into Netanyahu’s government. The Blue and White voters feel betrayed, and rightly so. Their votes were stolen and given as a gift to Netanyahu.”
Context: In his maiden speech as Knesset speaker, Gantz explained his shock decision by invoking the need to battle coronavirus and repair divisions within Israeli society. “These are not normal days, and they require abnormal decisions,” he said.
- Blue and White were formed in early 2019 when Gantz, Lapid, Yaalon and Ashkenazi joined forces to topple Netanyahu. During three election campaigns Blue and White succeeded, for the first time in a decade, in providing the Israeli public with a viable alternative party of Government to challenge Netanyahu’s Likud.
- But following the 2 March election results, Gantz had 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.
- The criticism aimed at Gantz from his erstwhile partners and supporters had much to do with the timing of his move. Blue and White, along with its partners in opposition, had a clear strategy for taking control of Knesset procedure. The objective would have been to increase their leverage over Netanyahu – including via the threat of legislation barring Netanyahu from running in future elections, due to his criminal trial.
Looking ahead: Despite yesterday’s political drama, the deal between Netanyahu and Gantz has not yet been finalised.
- Details yet to be worked out include key ministerial appointments, the legal and political guarantees that Netanyahu will in fact uphold the rotation agreement with Gantz, as well as what Netanyahu’s status will when he steps down as Prime Minister given his corruption indictments.
- Nevertheless, 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.