Days after he was tapped by Israeli President Reuven Rivlin to form the next government, the erstwhile head of the nominally centre-left Blue and White bloc, Benny Gantz, shocked everyone with an unexpected deal to join the government of his political rival and head of the right-wing Likud, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The Netanyahu-Gantz unity government will see the Likud leader stay on as Prime Minister for 18 months, after which Gantz will take the reins of power. In the meantime, the former general will serve as Minister of Defence; he was also elected as Speaker of the Knesset (parliament) last week. Ministerial portfolios will be divided between the Blue and White and Likud blocs.
This deal is shocking for several reasons, not least because Gantz has described Netanyahu as a "corrupt dictator" and, during his campaigns in the three General Elections over the past twelve months he pledged not to serve with him. He even went as far as to say on several occasions that he would oust his political rival, citing the indictments for fraud and corruption that Netanyahu faces, as well as breach of trust.
It was obvious that such a deal would break the centre-left Blue and White bloc, and that is exactly what has happened. Indeed, the Israeli left, such as it was, has fragmented and Israel's founding political wing is unlikely to get near government ever again. "Benny Gantz decided today to break apart Blue and White and crawl into Netanyahu's government," said Yair Lapid, his partner in the bloc. "It's a disappointing decision; a betrayal of the voters and a theft of votes, which were given as a gift to Netanyahu."
Responding to Gantz's claim that this is an emergency government to deal with the coronavirus crisis, Lapid said: "What is being formed today is not a unity government or an emergency government. It is another Netanyahu government."
According to the head of the left-wing Meretz party, Nitzan Horowitz, Gantz is a "collaborator" with Netanyahu. "He built himself on one promise only: an alternative leadership. Entering Netanyahu's government is to spit in their face and betray the voters of Blue and White and the entire centre-left bloc."
Politics does not exist to provide inspiring images noted Haaretz columnist Orien Morris. Criticising Gantz's U-turn from the left to the right in the face of his previous pledges, Morris wrote, "It's a dirty game of winning and losing, in which the coin is the public's trust, and sometimes even human life." He described the good leader in politics as the one who "betrays his electorate, breaks his campaign promises and violates his written platform because, in general, the crucial issues of the moment do not exist on the same plane."
However, some observers believe that Gantz was obliged to make this move. "I do not think Gantz betrayed his voters or partners because he had no other choices. If he had other choices, he would not have accepted this deal," the veteran Israeli journalist Gideon Levy told me.
Right-wing journalist Baruch Yadid is close to Netanyahu. He blamed Lapid for throwing Gantz into the arms of the Prime Minister. "Gantz turned to Netanyahu because he did not want to go for a fourth election, whereas Lapid has been speaking about another election for weeks, giving Gantz very little room for manoeuvre. In order to get away from Lapid's pressure, he was obliged to accept the deal with Netanyahu."
Morris pointed out that Blue and White included "about 10 soft rightists", which is another reason why Gantz felt the need to "betray" his voters. Before they started wishing to be in their natural right-wing camp, he himself jumped ship. Indeed, a whole party within the Gantz's led bloc was Avigdor Lieberman's far-right Yisrael Beiteinu, suggesting that the notion that Blue and White was somehow left of centre should itself be questioned. When Israeli politics is moving swiftly to the extreme right in any case, terms like "left-wing" are entirely relative.
Finally, it has to be pointed out that Gantz turned to Netanyahu for a deal when his allies rejected an alliance with the Arab Joint List. Orli Levi-Abekasis MK, for example, broke from Labor and Meretz because she opposed a Gantz-led government that would rely on the votes of Arab MKs. Racism infects the left as well as the right in Israel.
The decline of the left-wing camp, mainly Labor and Meretz which basically created the state of Israel, is almost complete. "Placing the surviving sextet on a graph showing the steep decline of both Labor and Meretz from a combined 56 [Knesset seats] in 1992, 29 in 2015, 11 in September 2019 and six today, the trend is crystal clear: The next and last stop is six feet under," commented Haaretz.
Gantz has clearly gone back on his campaign promises and betrayed the people who gave their support to a retired general with no political experience; they voted for him because they trusted him to do the right thing in their eyes. He has let them, and his political partners, down by joining the Netanyahu government. Netanyahu himself can't be trusted; nor, it has to be said, can Benny Gantz.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.