From mudslinging to mending, the future of the Netanyahu-Gantz coalition

POLITICAL AFFAIRS: How will Netanyahu and Gantz get along after fighting for 16 months?

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?
In the course of three stormy election campaigns, Blue and White leader Benny Gantz delivered his worst criticism of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the night in February 2019 that he unveiled his list of Knesset candidates at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds.
Gantz called Netanyahu “stressed, fearful and sweaty” and attacked him for the time he spent in the United States representing Israel as a diplomat and public speaker.
“When I crawled through muddy foxholes with my soldiers on frozen winter nights, you, Benjamin Netanyahu, left Israel to improve your English and practice it at luxurious cocktail parties,” Gantz said. “On the days when I commanded the Shaldag combat unit in life-threatening operations on enemy soil, you, Netanyahu, worked your way bravely and determinedly between makeup sessions in television studios. While I trained generations of commanders and fighters, you took acting lessons in New York.”
Netanyahu reacted by saying that “Gantz should be ashamed of himself,” and reminded Israelis that he risked his life and nearly lost it during his IDF service.
 Among Netanyahu’s worst attacks on Gantz, he mocked him at a conference of the right-wing newspaper Besheva that his rival had headed a cybersecurity firm but could not even stop his own phone from being hacked by the Iranians.
Now that the three campaigns are all over and an agreement on a government headed by Netanyahu and Gantz has finally been signed, Israelis will be closely watching the two of them to see if they can put their past battles behind them to serve the public.
Among the people who know both Netanyahu and Gantz very well, opinions are divided on whether that is even possible.
One former politician who has worked closely with both men said the partnership is doomed to failure, and might not even be finalized. He noted that if controversial legislation is not passed by May 7, the agreement Netanyahu and Gantz reached on Monday could still end up not resulting in a new government, and even if it does, Netanyahu can force an election at any time.
“This deal shows the total naivete of Gantz,” the former politician said. “Whoever knows Bibi well understands that he is manipulative and knows how to get what he needs. Had he gotten a right-wing government, it could have let him strangle the Knesset and trample the Supreme Court, but half the public would have been against him, and he would have had an assertive opposition. Now that he broke the Center-Left bloc, he gained legitimacy, which is even better for him.”
The former politician said Gantz, with only 15 loyal MKs and his lack of political experience, would not be able to stop anything Netanyahu wants to do. He said Gantz’s decision to join Netanyahu’s government after a standoff over the Knesset speaker post does not bode well for the near future.
“Bibi will maintain control, nominate the next chief of police and decide who the next Supreme Court judges will be,” he said. “This is crazy and wouldn’t happen in any advanced democracy. Gantz won the election, got the mandate from the president, got backing from the Supreme Court against Netanyahu and [former Knesset speaker Yuli] Edelstein, and when the moment for action came, he gave in to Bibi’s empty gun.”
Contrasting Gantz and Netanyahu, the former politician called the former “a good IDF chief of staff and a man of substance who is inexperienced and naive,” and the latter “a man who has no dissonance in lying and could easily pass a lie detector test.”
SOURCES CLOSE to Netanyahu and Gantz who currently work closely with them downplayed the criticism of both men and said that regardless of what has happened in the past, they are now ready to work together for the good of all Israelis.
“There is obviously a certain amount of suspicion between the sides, but as they start serving the Israeli public, I believe the suspicion will decrease,” said a senior Likud politician who is very close to the prime minister.
Sources in the Likud and Blue and White expressed confidence that the coalition agreement would prevent any attempt by their party leaders to undermine the other.
“There are many guarantees within the legislation to make sure it will be fulfilled,” the Likud politician said. “There are suspicions about Bibi, and that’s why there are guarantees to make sure it will be fulfilled. If he stabbed Gantz in the back, Gantz would be prime minister, and we would go to elections.”
Given a partial list of politicians who faced Netanyahu’s broken promises, including Shaul Mofaz, Tzipi Livni, Isaac Herzog, Moshe Kahlon, Rafi Eitan, Gilad Erdan and Nir Barkat, the Likud politician downplayed Netanyahu’s pattern of behavior.
“I disagree that he backstabs,” he said. “He is a clever politician. I don’t think he broke his promises. Those who receive promises understand that there are political realities that change.”
Asked if Netanyahu’s trial, which is set to start next month, or the annexation set for July could deteriorate the prime minister’s relationship with Gantz, the Likud figure said no.
“Netanyahu’s trial will start with the reading of the charges and then will have nothing substantive for many months, and applying sovereignty is part of the coalition agreement that Gantz accepted, and even if he opposes it and votes against it, it will move forward,” he said.
The Likud politician concluded by saying that “after a horrible year and three very tough election campaigns, it is obvious to Netanyahu that it is time to move on.”
The same was said by Blue and White MK and soon-to-be-minister Chili Tropper, a former Gantz adviser who is acknowledged to be the MK closest to him.
“Moving on to reconciliation will be the primary challenge for all of us to face,” Tropper said. “What got the leaders together after a year and a half of war was that they saw what the public expected of them. With the coronavirus, it was no longer legitimate to deal with petty politics. It was time to start getting along.”
Tropper also cited the new coalition agreement as the guarantee that Netanyahu and Gantz will work together professionally. He cited clauses that would make Gantz prime minister in a transition government, Blue and White’s veto power over bills, and the party’s control over the powerful Ministerial Committee on Legislation.
“The legislation is unprecedented,” Tropper said. “That is why all the comparisons to Mofaz and Livni are not serious. A team of lawyers worked on the bills for months. More importantly, Netanyahu and Gantz have been building trust, too, but that will take time.”
Tropper – who helped write Gantz’s first campaign speeches, presumably including the attack on Netanyahu the night he was introduced as a Knesset candidate – said the public should notice how differently Gantz spoke in his address about the coalition agreement on Tuesday night.
“Over the course of recent weeks, I’ve spent dozens of hours in discussions and meetings with Prime Minister Netanyahu,” Gantz said. “We arrived at agreements that will restore a functional government in this country.”
Gantz explained in the speech how he and Netanyahu would jointly and responsibly manage the coronavirus, enable budgets to be passed and make sure that the justice system can operate soundly and freely.
“Jews, Druze, and Arabs, the ultra-Orthodox, religious and secular, women and men, all of Israel’s citizens deeply wish that we could work together to the benefit of all of us, particularly in these unusual times, and I expect all of the partners to our new government to enlist in the effort to better our country,” he said.
Gantz concluded his address by praising Netanyahu in a way that could not have happened during any of the campaigns.
“I'd like to use this opportunity to thank all the partners who allowed us to take this step for the Israeli people – including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has also paid, and will continue to pay, a steep personal price for this move,” he said. “Together we succeeded in overcoming our differences to find common ground, and for that, I thank him.
“Beginning tomorrow, we will promote the establishment of a government for the sake and benefit of the Israeli people.”