The satire show Eretz Nehederet (Wonderful Country) Wednesday night depicted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu describing the irony of the dramatic turnaround in his political fortunes.
“You wanted me to be in prison, and now you’re all in prison, and I’m the only one who is free,” he was depicted as saying in the show that regularly portrays him as a wicked hedonist.
Minutes after the show ended, Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz issued surprisingly identical statements about coalition negotiations restarting. That joint statement brought Netanyahu and Gantz full circle from a terrible meeting they had in December, after which Gantz read a press release from Netanyahu attacking him moments after he left the room.
Gantz lost trust in Netanyahu after that meeting. While he has not regained it, the coronavirus outbreak made him realize there was no choice but to start compromising.
The prime minister sent messages to Gantz through Moti Sender, a 67-year-old Netanya businessman who mediated between Netanyahu and former Labor Party leaders Isaac Herzog and Avi Gabbay. Had the deal Sender reached with Gabbay to join Netanyahu’s government after the April election not been leaked, Israel would have been spared the following two elections.
Sender is not a typical Netanyahu confidant. He does not wear a kippah like Natan Eshel, Ari Harow or Gil Shefer, and he is not a right-winger. But he does not seek personal gain, and he gradually earned Netanyahu’s trust.
A Labor Party member for decades, Sender was described by a top former Labor official as a “smart, smooth operator” who strongly supports unity governments and knows how to talk to people to make them compromise. He meets with people discreetly, sometimes late at night, and managed to bridge a gap with Gantz after others couldn’t.
“My role has been exaggerated,” Sender said humbly. “I am not a mediator, but I know how to send messages to help get the country out of this jam. I act only for the country, and I hope I’ve played my part in helping the country.”
Sender revealed that “there were always messages back and forth, even when it looked like the two sides were completely disconnected.”
The deal he is helping reach is not done yet. More official talks will take place over the weekend.
Gantz’s associates said he did not intend to break up Blue and White on Thursday, but the behavior of his No. 2, Yair Lapid, left him no choice. Gantz was ready to have Yesh Atid MKs vote against the move to elect him as Knesset speaker, but Lapid was unwilling to compromise.
Sources close to Gantz said he did not become a Netanyahu admirer overnight, but he – unlike Lapid – cared more about helping Israel at a time of suffering from the coronavirus than he cared about hating Netanyahu.
As Gantz said in his speech accepting the Knesset speaker post: He chose to do “what’s right for this country” – the wonderful country that it is.