A mirage of Netanyahu-Gantz unity at Peres’ grave

Rivlin stood in Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl military cemetery and pushed Gantz and Netanyahu into a handshake, in which he grabbed first Gantz’s hand and then Netanyahu’s, pulling the two men together.

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September 20, 2019 01:15
3 minute read.
A mirage of Netanyahu-Gantz unity at Peres’ grave

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shaking hands with Blue and White leader Benny Gantz at a memorial service honoring Shimon Peres. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

It is just about now that Israelis might be thinking it could be easier to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than to bring its two top politicians together.

On Thursday, President Reuven Rivlin appeared to strike a pose reminiscent of former US president Bill Clinton when he sought to bring together Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his chief political rival Benny Gantz.

In 1993, Clinton stood on the White House lawn and famously oversaw a handshake between PLO chairman Yasser Arafat and prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.

Rivlin stood in Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl military cemetery and pushed Gantz and Netanyahu into a handshake, in which he grabbed first Gantz’s hand and then Netanyahu’s, pulling the two men together.

It was a dream moment for Rivlin, who has called on both men to form a unity government. It almost gave the appearance that such a mirage was possible.

In Tuesday’s election, Gantz’s Blue and White party secured 33 seats while Netanyahu received 31, but it appears that neither independently has the ability to form a government of 61 seats. If Gantz were able to pull together a left-wing bloc, the best he could do is arrive at 57 seats. Netanyahu already has a 55-member bloc. Each of them is dependent on Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party, which has eight seats but will only enter a coalition made up of Gantz and Netanyahu.

Neither man wants to form a coalition solely with the other, but unless the stalemate is broken, Israel will most assuredly go to a new election – the third in less than a year. April’s election also placed Netanyahu and Gantz in a similar stalemate.

Rivlin is set to begin consultations on Sunday with Israel’s parties as to who should be given the first option to form a government. But the pregame politics began already in the cemetery at a memorial service for Shimon Peres.

There was an irony to the setting, because the situation would not have been unusual for Peres, who in 1984 had a similar stalemate with his rival Yitzhak Shamir of Likud. His Alignment Party had 44 seats to Shamir’s Likud at 41. Neither could form a coalition independent of the other, and neither Peres nor Shamir wanted to give up the option of being prime minister. The situation was resolved through a coalition of both parties in which there was a rotating premiership, with Peres holding the post of prime minister for the first two years, followed by Shamir for the other two years.

It is an option that Netanyahu hinted at during his remarks, when he called on Gantz to form a broad unity government with him in that spirit. True, it was a memorial ceremony, but in Israel, those ceremonies are often staging grounds for matters of the day.

It was a stage that Netanyahu turned to his advantage, walking in with a smile, shaking Gantz’s hand, and presenting him with what looked like a peace offering while he stood by the grave of past prime ministers.

It was almost as if the weight of history was calling out to Gantz, who hours later rejected the offer, giving him the appearance of being the refusenik in this situation.

But Netanyahu failed to mention the multiple conditions with the offering, including accepting his 55-member bloc with its ultra-Orthodox parties and himself as prime minister.

The handshake was nice, as were the bowed heads, but Peres’ smiling photograph set up by the podium did little to pull either men back from their game of political chicken that could very likely end in a third election.


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