Can Gantz really form a government? - Analysis

The National Unity Party claims that only Benny Gantz could form a stable government. How could he do so when he only polls third place?

Benny Gantz speaking at the launch of the National Unity party's campaign. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Benny Gantz speaking at the launch of the National Unity party's campaign.

National Unity, the party led by Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar, has claimed since its formation that Gantz is the only politician who can bring together parties from both sides of the aisle and, therefore, will have the best chance of forming a stable government following the November 1 election.

“There are only two possible outcomes in this election: Either [opposition leader Benjamin] Netanyahu forms a government with [MKs Bezalel] Smotrich and [Itamar] Ben-Gvir, or Gantz becomes prime minister,” Culture and Sport Minister Chili Tropper, a Gantz confidant, said Wednesday in an interview with Army Radio.

For weeks, the party remained mum on how exactly it planned to form a government. It only said whom it was ruling out: the “extremes” – Hadash-Ta’al and the Religious Zionist Party; and the Likud as long as it is headed by Netanyahu. Gantz, Sa’ar and other representatives from their party repeatedly have said Netanyahu was no longer a partner, even if Gantz were to serve as prime minister for the first two years in a rotation government.

Finally, last week, the party released a video that included a pie chart with the parties National Unity, Labor, Yisrael Beytenu, Meretz, United Torah Judaism, Shas and Yesh Atid, which added up to 71 mandates, based on a Channel 12 poll from September 16.

 FROM LEFT: Gadi Eisenkot, Benny Gantz, Gideon Sa'ar. (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV) FROM LEFT: Gadi Eisenkot, Benny Gantz, Gideon Sa'ar. (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV)

Are voters buying it?

According to a Channel 12 poll, voters are not buying it.

The poll, which was published on Meet the Press on Saturday, asked, “In your opinion, what government will Gantz be able to form?”

There were four possible answers. Forty-three percent of respondents said they believed he would not be able to form a government. Twenty-two percent said he would be able to form a Center-Left government with the Arab parties Hadash-Ta’al and Ra’am. Twenty-one percent said he could form a unity government with Netanyahu and the Likud. Just 14% said they believed Gantz would be able to form a Center-Right government with the haredi parties but without Netanyahu.

The poll did not ask directly about the option that Gantz’s party posted in its video. But the closest option – a Center-Right government without Netanyahu – is nowhere near enough seats if it does not include the Likud. The premise is that the Likud will get rid of Netanyahu, and the poll shows that very few people believe this will happen – and for good reason.

The Likud did not get rid of Netanyahu after the past four elections, and his grip on the party has only strengthened.

This led a full 40% of the poll’s respondents to believe that Gantz would break his promise and would side with either Netanyahu or the Arab parties. There also is a good reason for this belief, as Gantz already did so in the past.

Gantz and Netanyahu's complicated history

Following the third election in March 2020, at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Gantz broke a central campaign promise and joined Netanyahu in a rotation. He explained his move as being necessary to save the country from ongoing political chaos during the health crisis.

But who is to say that Gantz will not do so once again? Despite his promises, Gantz may argue come November that blocking a Netanyahu-Ben-Gvir government is necessary, and perhaps even an “emergency,” and join some form of rotation with Netanyahu.

This seems to be the most realistic option, other than him not being able to form a government at all. Being able to bring Labor, Meretz, Yisrael Beytenu and both haredi parties to the table would require serious political and ideological cartwheels. Even if such a government did form, the past year showed that a coalition of many small parties with competing interests would be very difficult to maintain.

National Unity will presumably continue to flout Gantz as the only possible prime minister. But it is worth keeping in mind that the scenario for him to do so will either involve Netanyahu or another highly unsustainable mix of parties.