In a fractured world with an ever increasing divide between political factions, unity seems a strange and distant idea. And yet, somehow, the torn and broken political landscape in Israel seem to be inching ever closer to a government which sets out to achieve just that. Unity. In a time of national and international crisis it seems that the right and left wings of Israel have come together to finally do what they’re meant to do; serve the people.
But if we look beneath the shining veneer of fierce rivals coming together for posed photographs and political negotiations, the reality is far from perfect.
It has been said that in dark and uncertain times we must set aside our differences and work together, and that is certainly true. But what happens when only one person sets aside their differences?
Benny Gantz, who until just a few days ago was seen as leader of the centre left block, has been both praised and harshly criticised over the past week for his drastic move of giving in to a government headed by Netanyahu, reneging on his singular piece of policy: to never sit with Netanyahu.
Gantz’s voter base have received the information with mixed feelings, with over half of them happy about his decision. After all, they voted for change but not too much change, so having a government that has inched back from the edge of an extreme right abyss to the centre right must be a relief.
But if the surveys were to widen their polls to ask those of us who voted for the Labour Gesher Meretz alliance, or the Joint List (or even those who voted for Gantz on the merit of Yesh Atid) how we feel about this, the answers differ drastically.
Whilst we weren’t voting directly for Gantz, we were voting for a government led by him as our only option. We knew that he was the only feasible leader, and that through a government led by him but backed by our politicians we would see real change. And we trusted him enough to believe that his extensive smear campaigns against Netanyahu actually meant something.
As it turns out, they didn’t. Gantz has revoked every single statement he made during his year long campaign, from the ones where he declared Netanyhu unfit to be prime minister, to the ones he made about virtue, morals, and corrupt politicians. These have all been swept away now to make room for new statements, ones he will give as a senior minister in Netanyahu’s coalition.
Because for anyone mistaken about the terms of this new government that’s what it will be. Not a unity government, not a partnership, but one more coalition led by Netanyahu, one he will rule with his iron fist.
The negotiations seem to be simple. Gantz will take back all his promises, give in to every demand, and in return Netanyahu will give him the ministry position he craves. The former IDF Chief of Staff will likely become minister of defence, ready to once again serve and protect Netanyahu’s every whim. Not before a brief stint as interim speaker of the Knesset though.
When those of us unhappy with this arrangement have said as such out loud, Gantz and Netanyahu supporters alike have been quick to dismiss it as pessimistic or ungrateful. “You should be happy there’s a government!” we’re told “There was nothing else he could do!”
Indeed they’re right. There was nothing else Benny Gantz could do. When he set out to create a centre left government, he made the mistake of bringing right wing politicians along with him, politicians who refused to cooperate in his attempts to play nice with the Arab politicians of the Joint List. And now, in his attempt to create a unity government with Netanyahu, he has distanced himself not only from the Joint List, Meretz, and Avodah, but from almost half the elected Kahol Lavan politicians.
In an incredible turn of events both the centre right Telem faction and the centre left Yesh Atid faction of Gantz’s Kahol Lavan have united in their anger and broken away, refusing to sit in another Netanyahu government. Whilst it has been extremely reassuring to see that at least some politicians actually believe in the words that come out of their mouth, this means that a severely depleted Kahol Lavan will be entering into government, giving Netanyahu even more freedom to bring his right wing buddies with him.
Gantz’s reasons for his actions are unclear. Does he truly believe he’s doing the right thing? Does he believe that compromise will bring unity? Or did the appeal of a coveted position become too much, at the same time as the fear of working with the shunned Joint List overwhelmed him?
Only time will tell us the answers to these questions. But we know one thing. With a global pandemic giving Netanyahu a reprieve from a trial that was meant to start last week, and Gantz effectively giving him his blessing for another four years in government, the unexpected surprises are far from over.
Even now, Amir Peretz is rumoured to be selling the soul of the dying Israeli left wing in exchange for two seats in the coalition. But that’s another story for another time.