Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz are the stars of the unity-gov't show

#3 - Israel's prime ministers: Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz

NETANYAHU AND Gantz – can they put their animosity aside and serve the public? (photo credit: CORINNA KERN AMIR COHEN REUTERS)
NETANYAHU AND Gantz – can they put their animosity aside and serve the public?
It sounds like the format for a bad sitcom.
Take two very different men, have them fight mercilessly for a year and a half, and then force them to try to live in harmony and work together even when it is clear that it doesn’t work.
Welcome to Israel’s national-unity government and what could be the last experiment with having two prime ministers.
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz are the stars of the show. This odd couple was supposed to set aside differences and work together for the good of the country, but instead are often too busy fighting each other to remember that.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Before the unity government was announced, Netanyahu promised “no more tricks or shticks.” Gantz, for his part, stopped the criticism of the indicted Netanyahu, whose criminal trial has since begun. They both claimed they were putting the past behind them and were working on behalf of the people with one primary goal – to save Israel from the COVID-19 health and economic crisis.
This has not been the case. Since the government took office in May, not only has the coronavirus blown out of control, but the two prime ministers have constantly clashed, clearly illustrated by the fight around the deadline of the passing of the state budget in August which almost ended in a new election.
Read longer 1:1 interview with Benny Gantz >>
While the threat of a new election has been pushed off until December, there are few in the political establishment who believe that Netanyahu will abdicate the Prime Minister’s Office and official residence in November 2021 and that Gantz will take his place.
But no matter how much they fight each other, the buck ultimately stops with both of them. Netanyahu, who constantly fights to ensure he will be given credit for any of the government’s successes, would not have a government without Gantz.
And no matter how much they try to avoid it, blame for the government’s failures will inevitably be assigned to both of them by the public. The fates of Netanyahu and Gantz are hopelessly intertwined, whether they realize it or not.
Both the Likud Party of Netanyahu and the Blue and White Party of Gantz have fallen dramatically in the polls. The percentage of the public that considers Netanyahu and Gantz fit to be prime minister has fallen dramatically as well.
Conventional wisdom still states that the government will fall apart at the end of December and elections will be held in March. But if coronavirus numbers keep rising, and if Netanyahu’s and Gantz’s poll numbers keep falling, that could stop being a foregone conclusion.
The last exit date for Netanyahu to initiate an election before Gantz would take over is March 31, which would result in Israelis going to the polls again at the end of June. As usual, the decisions about when the next election will take place are expected to be heavily impacted by Netanyahu’s criminal trial, which in January will start to hold hearings three days a week.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu is working on building an unexpected legacy. He has neither stopped Iran’s nuclear program, nor toppled Hamas, nor annexed land in the West Bank, and the record low unemployment figures he once boasted about are now sky-high. But he is making peace with Arab Muslim countries, and more embassies are scheduled to open in Jerusalem. Instead, it seems, he is looking to set a legacy as a peacemaker based on a doctrine that may end up continuing no matter how long he lasts as prime minister and no matter who is president of the United States.
But even if that happens, Netanyahu’s legacy will also be marked by his attacks on Israel’s democratic institu-tions. Under his tenure, Israelis have grown farther and farther apart and he has stoked the flames of division with constant attacks against the opposition, the press, the police, the attorney general, the state prosecutor’s office and the Supreme Court. He has demonized Israeli-Arabs and turned the term “left-wing” into something of a curse word. And while even if Gantz does not get to move into the Balfour residence before his political career comes to an end, he will be able to find comfort in being the person who came the closest - in almost 12 years - to unseating Netanyahu.
The coming months will be critical for Israel’s future and they will also determine the political trajectory for the two men who claim the title of prime minister.
How it all ends is a show you won’t want to miss. •