The role Gabbay and Olmert are playing in elections

If there were only ghosts on Gantz’s side, perhaps it would not be too hard to form a government, but there is also a political ghost for Netanyahu

Ex-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and former Labor leader Avi Gabbay (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Ex-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and former Labor leader Avi Gabbay
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The Israel Democracy Institute poll published on the cover of Sunday’s Jerusalem Post found that 43% of Israelis blame Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the current political deadlock, 38% blame Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman and 7.5% blame Blue and White leader Benny Gantz.
Strangely enough, none of the respondents gave the correct answer, which is former Labor leader Avi Gabbay.
Avi Gabbay? Who even remembers him? Who even knew he existed when he topped the Labor list in the April election? The only thing people remember from his tenure was the disrespectful way he divorced his political partner Tzipi Livni on live TV.
It actually is not Gabbay himself who is causing the problem but the political ghost of Gabbay. When speaking to the leaders of Blue and White and their advisers, they mention Gabbay constantly in explaining why Gantz is afraid to compromise.
Every time Gantz is ready to accept an offer from Netanyahu on a rotation in the Prime Minister’s Office, his No. 2, Yair Lapid, or his No. 3, Moshe Ya’alon, remind him of Gabbay as a negative role model for a politician.
For those who forgot, the successful businessman started his political career as a man of principles. He quit Netanyahu’s cabinet and the Kulanu Party when Netanyahu replaced Ya’alon as defense minister with Liberman. He was the only minister who strongly opposed a controversial natural gas deal. He joined Labor and beat a crowded field to quickly become its leader.
Ahead of the April election, Gabbay’s campaign focused on his promise not to join a government led by Netanyahu. While Gantz equivocated on the matter and was caught on tape explaining how he might end up in Netanyahu’s cabinet, Gabbay presented himself as a safe bet for the anti-Netanyahu voter.
But when push came to shove in May, Gabbay spent the night at the Prime Minister’s Residence on Balfour Street in Jerusalem, negotiating himself a deal to become Netanyahu’s finance minister. The main reason why the deal did not work out was that it was revealed prematurely on TV and made him look bad. Gabbay later admitted he regretted not accepting the deal anyway.
That incident ended Gabbay’s political career, and Gantz does not want the same to happen to him. If he negotiated entering Netanyahu’s government, the prime minister could pull the rug out from under him, initiate a third election and leave Blue and White with nothing to run on after being the anti-Bibi party in the last two races.
Gabbay is not the only politician whose ghost causes political trauma. There is also former Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz, another former IDF chief of staff, who entered Netanyahu’s cabinet, got nothing from it, and then won just two seats. Livni and Ehud Barak were also harmed by similar decisions.
If there were only ghosts on Gantz’s side, perhaps it would not be too hard to form a government. But there is also a political ghost for Netanyahu.
His name is Ehud Olmert, and his case is traumatizing for Netanyahu. The former prime minister had already stepped down from the premiership when police recommended bribery charges against him, a stage Netanyahu passed in February 2018.
Olmert first went to trial in Jerusalem where three judges heard his case. There, in 2012, he was acquitted of almost all of the  charges against him. In another case, though, because he was no longer prime minister, Olmert was tried by one judge in Tel Aviv. In that case, District Court Judge David Rozen, sentenced him to six years in prison. The sentence was then reduced by a Supreme Court panel to 18 months. 
Netanyahu wants to avoid a scenario like Olmert's in which one judge can determine his fate. Olmert’s 600-page book that he wrote in prison vilifies Rozen the same way Bill Clinton’s presidential library in Little Rock, Arkansas, demonizes Ken Starr, the independent counsel who tried to get him impeached.    
It is the trauma from these political ghosts that is preventing Gantz and Netanyahu from compromising, and could end up spooking Israel into holding a third election in under a year.