A Few Good Men & Women

As a dedicated, sometimes even astute (hopefully) observer of Israel and America’s relations and politics, I pride myself on some farsighted observations throughout the years of writing this blog. And yet, I didn’t see this one coming. Had you told me last year that in the space of a little over six months both Trump and Netanyahu would be gone, no longer in power, I would’ve found it hard to believe. But here we are, with the most surprising development of the two being the fall of the house of ‘King Bibi,’ after more than twelve years as Israel’s Prime Minister.

I’m in good company, not seeing it coming, though I gave it some 25% possibility before the elections. But let me tell you: On the first day after the latest flare-up between Israel and Hamas had ended, I listened to my favorite Israeli political observer talking about the possibility of a new government being formed. Here is what he said, more or less: “The only question is whether Yair Lapid (head of Yesh Atid, who had the mandate from President Rivlin to form a new coalition, H.D.), would hand the president his mandate now, saying he’d failed to form a coalition, or he’ll wait the 14 days left for him and then give it back without any positive results.”

Well, you know the outcome. Bucking all predictions and expectations, Yair Lapid was able to go back to the president before the hour struck midnight and tell him that he had succeeded, where others had failed. He, and not the current Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is the true, and first good man of this semi-political revolution. He started during the elections, when he directed his campaign, and asked his supporters too, not to attack the parties to his left, Labor and Meretz, since he wanted them to be able to enter the new Knesset. What a noble act. And he reaped the rewards, since they joined his coalition.

His second noble, and novel idea was to put aside his ego, and though he is the leader of the largest party in this coalition with 17 members in the new Knesset, he offered to hand over the premiership to Bennett for the first two years, even though Bennett has only six MKs in his party. Unheard off. And that despite Bennett declaring during the latest war with Hamas in Gaza that coalition talks with Lapid are practically dead, as far as he was concerned. And yet Lapid was able to pull him in yet again, and together with seven other parties—among them an Arab Party—to form a governing coalition. What a miracle: putting your ambitions aside for the sake of what’s best for the country and its shaking democracy.

Before moving on to the next ‘good man’ on my list, let me return to America and to the much welcomed, disgraced as it were, fall of former President Trump. Unlike other observers I read, and also what seems to be the common belief among the public at large, it was not the constitution that had saved American democracy from collapsing (though it was very close to it). It was a few good men and women who stepped up to the plate and defended the constitution, the rule of law, and the integrity of the elections. I won’t name them here (you probably heard of them plenty), but when push came to shove they—most of them Republican officials—stood by the walls of the castle and defended our fragile democracy.

Though the political process and system in Israel are different, in essence, the same happened there, and without a constitution. This brings me to the second ‘good man’ on my list. Benny Gantz, the Defense, or Security Minister. He is the only minister to remain in office from the previous government. He too did the right thing for the country and joined Netanyahu in government throughout the pandemic. He was supposed to become Prime Minister this coming November, but Netanyahu betrayed him, as he betrayed others. And then, when in the last moment Netanyahu offered to resign immediately, and to hand him the premiership for the three remaining years in the coalition term, he didn’t hesitate to refuse. He is the leader, also, of the second-largest party in this coalition, yet has put his ambition aside and didn’t demand to be a Prime Minister too.

Next must be Naftali Bennett. While he was regarded from the outset as the kingmaker, it was not clear at all that he would crown himself as king. Not the least because for the first time in Israel’s history, a leader of a very small party became the Prime Minister and leader of the country. So in a way he has the most to gain, but also the most to lose. The attacks on him from Netanyahu’s camp are indeed ferocious, and threatening with violence. He, originally an extreme right-wing leader, a supporter of not only the settlement endeavor but the annexation of a large part of the West Bank, now sits in a government with two parties from the left, and an Arab party to boot. The outcome of this government, however long it would survive, is of course unclear, and at the end of it he might find himself with a party without any significant public support.

His right hand throughout the years, from working together in Netanyahu’s office to forming their party and remaining united through thick and thin, is Ayelet Shaked, currently the Minister of the Interior. And while I’m as far as can be from being a supporter of her, she deserves some credit too. If for nothing else, then for standing by this coalition agreement, despite heavy threats from Netanyahu’s camp, including death threats to her and her family. Another woman worth mentioning here, in closing, is Merav Michaeli, the current Minister of Transportation. She resurrected the Labor party from the dead in an impressive fashion, didn’t hesitate to join this strange coalition, and seems like a safe bet for a leader with a bright future.

All in all, while the days ahead will provide answers as to how long this government will stay in power (the predictions are not for long), and how much good it will be able to do (the expectations are not high), it has already succeeded in its main and most important goal: kicking Netanyahu out of office and saving Israel’s democracy. Not bad for a start.

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The Surprising, Crucial Element in Israel’s Next Elections

timesofisrael.com

To better understand what’s at stake in this election round, what change it might bring—if any at all—and especially what that new, surprising (even crucial) element is, we better analyze first where we are with these elections, and what to expect.

Not much, indeed, by way of a change. Let’s say a rich uncle has suddenly materialized in my life and is handing me a hundred dollars (a thousand, a million, all the same) to bet on the elections. Right away, I will put 50 bucks on the result of ‘no change.’ Things will stay the same, with no one being able to form a government (but hang on, as such result is important to that surprising element I promised you at the top). In other words, no side—either Netanyahu’s Likud and his rightwing block, neither the center-left block—will be able to form a sustained coalition. A stalemate, in short, will ensue.

How come? Well, essentially, nothing much has changed in the makeup of the Israeli public and electorate since the first election in this cycle took place, some two years ago. In this, the fourth round, the Knesset will be divided just as much, if not exactly right vs left but with Netanyahu’s block against the rest. No one will be able to secure a majority and therefore the impasse will remain; Netanyahu will continue to rule as a Prime Minister in transition, until another round of useless election is called and commence.

So next, I will put thirty dollars of my uncle’s money on Netanyahu succeeding after all to form a governing coalition. I’m betting here on his ability to pull another rabbit out of the hat, mainly due to him taking full credit for the vaccination success in Israel, beating down the coronavirus pandemic, and the normalization of relations with several Arab and African countries. Also, his appeal to the Israeli Arab population (his sworn enemy in the last three elections) on the one hand, and the racist Kahanist party on the other. Right now the Israeli polls indicate a slight improvement in the possibility of such an outcome, and these polls, it must be said here upfront, were pretty accurate the last two rounds.

Now to the twenty dollars left for me to bet on. I’ll put them on the opposing, anti-Netanyahu forces being able somehow to form a government. The chances are not good, but I have twenty bucks left (and it’s not my money, to boot). In fact, as I write this post, some polls do predict a slight advantage to this camp. So why only twenty dollars on them? Because this camp, while united in its disdain for Netanyahu, is so fragmented on all other issues facing the country that it will not be able to come to an agreement. Not on who will lead them, and not on what to do once they are in power. Furthermore, even in the unlikeliest scenario that they will be able to form a governing coalition, it will collapse soon thereafter and bring a new election round.
This brings me to the surprising element I promised you at the top, and to the dark horse of these elections. His name is Benny Gantz, the leader of the Blue and White Party, and currently the Defense Minister, the acting Justice Minister, and the government Prime Minister in reserve. He is the one who actually won the second election round but was unable to form a coalition, though he had a slight majority. He is the one who promised to never join Netanyahu’s government—but did just that anyway.

He decided, in the dead of night of the coronavirus pandemic outburst to end the debacle, hold his fingers to his nose and join the coalition. In a blogpost on April 26, 2020, titled: The Lesser of Two Evils, I supported his move. It was the right move for Israel and Israelis, I thought, but the wrong, disastrous move for him politically. I was in the minority then, supporting him, and I now find myself in the single-digit minority still thinking he did the right thing.

He prevented the annexation of the West Bank by Netanyahu; he protected the integrity and independence of the judicial system (and Netanyahu’s trial going forward); he helped to muster the resources to fight the pandemic; he served as a gatekeeper for Israel’s democracy, against Netanyahu’s attempts of destroying it. And indeed, as predicted by all, Netanyahu negated to go ahead with the agreement to rotate the premiership, and use the one loophole available for him not to pass a budget. Hence the elections. And hence the collapse of Gantz’s Blue and white party. A party all the polls are indicating is teetering on the edge of not even making it to the next Knesset. Of not passing the electoral threshold.

But guess what: If he does get into the next Knesset, and if as seems most likely the stalemate continues following this election, and the next one too, he would become the next Prime Minister on November 17! Yes, you read me right. By a basic law that the Knesset had enacted under this coalition, he would assume power—if he is still a Knesset member—November 17. No joke!

Now, to be sure, there are so many ‘ifs’ for such a scenario to become reality, that’s it’s almost unthinkable. Hence no money is put on it as a bet. But one fact remains intact: Despite all opinions, predictions and popularity contests showing otherwise, he might still be the best option to replace Netanyahu in power. So I say to all Israelis (I am one, too, but I cannot vote unless I fly back home for the elections): Vote for benny Gantz and Blue and White.

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