Benny Gantz, head of Blue and White party, leans forward as his party candidate Gabi Ashkenazi stands nearby during a visit to Kibbutz Kfar Aza, outside the northern Gaza Strip, in southern Israel March 13, 2019.
(photo credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)
With 20 days to the elections, Benny Gantz, the main opposition candidate, held three interviews on Tuesday with the largest news programs in Israel. Each was broadcast during evening prime time, and each consisted of him answering questions from the anchor of the respective program.
Gantz kept his answers short and general. He said he would work to “shape a new reality” in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. He was not ashamed of the word “peace,” he claimed. But Israel must maintain security. Gantz walked the interviewers through various consensus views held by the Israeli public. He wouldn’t make unilateral decisions about the conflict with the Palestinians, but he also didn’t say anything positive about Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas.
Peace discussions are far away, he told Channel 12 anchorwoman Yonit Levy: “There isn’t anyone to talk to.” Israel will remain Jewish and democratic. He also said he would not sit in a government with current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. To Channel 13 anchorwoman Tamar Ish-Shalom, he said that the prime minister’s situation has worsened because of the various criminal investigations. “The only thing that could change that, is if the situation changes.”
Gantz and his Blue and White Party, led by three former chiefs of staff and Yair Lapid, has been polling above Netanyahu’s Likud in the last month. However, Likud recently beat Blue and White in a Walla News poll. This puts Gantz in an increasingly difficult position. He told the interviewers that he would be willing to work with both Meretz, and the New Right Party under Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked. He is against forming a coalition with the far-right Union of Right-Wing Parties, or the Arab parties.
Since Gantz formed his Israel Resilience Party, he has sought to keep the media at arm’s length, preferring to appear as a reliable but politically untested savior who has come to take the wheel of the state after 10 years of Netanyahu. In his first speech on January 28, and the announcement of a union with Lapid on February 28 to form the Blue and White Party, there have been few specifics about what a Gantz government will do.
The three interviews on March 19 were a chance to get some details. Instead, what the public saw was a very Prime Minister-looking Gantz, sitting at a large desk with an Israeli flag bookending the frame of the camera. Gone were any knickknacks in the background. For those that have tried to compare Gantz to previous generals who sought the highest office – such as Ehud Barak, Ariel Sharon or Yitzhak Rabin – the comparison is weakened by the fact that these other leaders spoke with more clarity to media, and were frequently in the spotlight before they came to power.
Gantz owes the public more. The country faces difficult challenges on several fronts including the Iranian threat, the Gaza crisis, relations with Arab states, a growing divide with the Diaspora, and antisemitism abroad. Many of these issues may be consensus issues. The Israeli public largely agrees on the big brush strokes of defending the country and is skeptical about the creation of a Palestinian state, but also wants to preserve Israel as a Jewish and democratic country. Given this consensus, real leadership comes in not merely providing generalized answers that everyone will agree with but in providing a vision for the future of how the state will look in a decade.
Netanyahu promised Israel that he will manage the conflict: not make bold decisions but rather carry out pragmatic policies designed to prevent another intifada and challenge the Iranians. Netanyahu is the ultimate cynic when it comes to major changes. The Kotel – no change. Bedouin demands for land rights in the Negev – no change. Gaza - no change. Red-Dead Sea canal - no change. Incrementalism has been Israel’s policy for 10 years.
If the public is to be given more incrementalism, then there is no reason they will choose Gantz – because they don’t need another Netanyahu. Gantz needs to differentiate himself. The interviews Tuesday night, along with Gantz slipping in the polls, show that the public wants more. This is an opportunity to go beyond the interviews and provide a vision to Israel.
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