In what might appears to be something of a great escape, Blue and White leader Benny Gantz managed to avoid both appearing like a third wheel in a joint meeting between him, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump, and offending the notoriously tetchy American leader.
Ever since Trump announced that both Netanyahu and Gantz would be coming, those in the Blue and White chairman’s inner circle had been concerned that he would not come off well during the meeting.
Netanyahu has built a close and congenial relationship with Trump, and has frequently flattered the US president while paying tribute to him in several ways, including the naming of a putative town on the Golan Heights “Trump Heights.”
Officials in Blue And White were concerned how Gantz would be treated by the president in comparison to Netanyahu.
There was a significant risk that Trump and Netanyahu would like the mutually admiring bosom-buddies they have become during a joint meeting with Gantz, while the Blue and White leader looked on awkwardly as the odd-man out who could only give the US president a polite handshake after Netanyahu received a warm bearhug.
The fact that Netanyahu had said after Trump’s announcement that he had himself requested that Gantz come along already made it seem like the latter was only coming as a good-will gesture of the benevolent prime minister.
Additionally, Netanyahu is greatly accustomed to sharing a platform with world leaders and is comfortable in the role of statesman, and is also at ease speaking freely to the international press in fluent, highly polished English.
Gantz has little of the diplomatic experience the prime minister possesses, and certainly lacks his consummate English language skills and therefore could have seen greatly diminished in a joint meeting.
The Blue and White leadership was therefore anxious to avoid a joint meeting, but doing so was highly problematic.
A direct rejection to meet with Trump after a personal invitation would rightly be seen as a rude and offensive gesture towards an American president who has showered Israel with a multitude of munificent gifts, such as recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights and moving the US embassy to Israel, to name but two.
Trump’s reaction to such a slight could also have been electorally ruinous. An aggressive tweet by the US president towards Gantz pointing out his lack of respect would cause the Blue and White leader huge embarrassment and likely lose him the election.
Netanyahu would have been able to seize on the mistake as evidence of Gantz’s poor diplomatic skills and as having damaged ties with perhaps the most pro-Israel president ever.
By finding a way to meet Trump separately without Netanyahu, Gantz has ensured that he avoids both the pitfall of a joint meeting, and that of offending the US president, and has escaped unscathed from what a potentially damaging situation.