Will Netanyahu, Gantz follow Trump off a cliff?

POLITICAL AFFAIRS: Will Netanyahu and Gantz learn cautionary lessons from the US president’s apparent loss?

PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz at the Knesset back in May. (photo credit: ALEX KOLOMOISKY/FLASH90)
PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz at the Knesset back in May.
(photo credit: ALEX KOLOMOISKY/FLASH90)
There are many reasons for politicians to set aside petty disputes and unite to help the people who elected them.
The best reason is for the good of the country.
Another reason is that voters tend to hold politicians accountable if they do not serve the public well.
The urgent need to fight the coronavirus presented Israeli politicians an extra-special reason, and it was the basis for the current government’s formation.
But even COVID-19 and the 2,600 deaths it has caused in Israel have not persuaded the Likud and Blue and White to take the steps necessary to enable their own government to function properly.
Another reason was required to spark Israeli politicians to take action, and when one appeared on the horizon, it briefly provided some hope.
Ahead of the American election, MKs in both the Likud and Blue and White said the verdict in the US would have a huge impact not only on the red states and the blue states there but also on politics in the Jewish state here.
So did watching his close friend US President Donald Trump apparently lose Tuesday’s election scare Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu away from going to elections during a pandemic and persuade him to start compromising with Gantz?
Are the 2021 state budget, the series of key appointments to top posts and the functioning cabinet and Ministerial Committee on Legislation that Gantz has demanded coming soon? Will there even be a rotation in the Prime Minister’s Office in a year, as the coalition agreement promised?
FOUR CURRENT and former advisers of Netanyahu told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday that the answer is a resounding “no way.” (Some even added emojis, just in case that answer was not clear enough.)
“Ultimately, he thinks he is starting from a different position than Trump was,” said international strategic consultant Ari Harow, who was Netanyahu’s chief of staff. “Trump was behind in all the polls, so he had to surprise the country. Here, Netanyahu is still leading in all the polls by a significant amount. By giving Gantz the 2021 budget, he would basically be giving him the rotation. There would be no exit point left for him.”
Harow said it is clear in hindsight that Netanyahu never intended to live up to the rotation agreement.
“Because of that, regardless of what happens in the US, he is going to look for a way out,” he said. “The other thing that Bibi always keep in mind is his belief that new opportunities and realities constantly open up, so although the message of the day could be ‘Don’t go to elections during COVID,’ in his mind, three, four or five months down the road is a long time. Many things can change, and many opportunities can open up.”
Aviv Bushinsky, a consultant who served as Netanyahu’s spokesman in his first term answered the same questions by saying: “No way. It is a totally different scenario. Bibi’s policy re COVID-19 is 180 degrees different than Trump’s.”
That is true. Netanyahu has been much more vigilant in fighting the virus than Trump. He never downplayed it, as Trump did, and he strongly encourages wearing masks.
But does that mean Netanyahu can go to an election, in spite of the virus?
A current source close to Netanyahu said that if Israel ends up going to a fourth election in under two years, it would be the fault of Blue and White and not the prime minister.
“It’s Blue and White that is plotting elections and politicizing the budget, not us,” he said. “They are agitating for elections, due to their poll numbers, and we call on them to stop. We aren’t pushing elections. We are pushing unity.”
The source noted that the government was formed to fight the coronavirus and heal the economy, and said the Likud has been doing that despite Blue and White getting in the way, stalling and stopping key efforts.
Asked whether the Likud prefers a rotation in the Prime Minister’s Office or maintaining an exit point for Netanyahu to initiate an election with him as caretaker prime minister, the source close to Netanyahu said: “We hope all sides keep the agreement we signed. We call for unity for fighting the coronavirus and helping people, and nothing has changed.”
Netanyahu’s strategists prevented Likud MKs from talking to the press about the impact of the US election on Israeli politics, because the results indicating a victory by Democratic candidate Joe Biden were not yet final.
SOURCES CLOSE to Gantz in Blue and White were more open about the impact of the US race on Israeli politics. When asked whether Gantz would take advantage of the perceived weakening of Netanyahu from his ally Trump’s loss to try to form a different coalition or initiate an election now, they all said no.
“The political developments in the US will, of course, influence the way Israel handles its foreign policy, but the decision on whether to go to elections here is a solely internal issue,” one Gantz adviser said. “Gantz set redlines on the budget. The only thing that will decide whether we can remain in this government is whether the Likud is willing to advance the budget and enable the government to function.”
The Gantz adviser admitted Trump’s loss could benefit the leader of Blue and White, but the adviser said it would not dictate what he decides to do.
“We are apparently going to elections with no connection to the US,” another Gantz adviser said. “Our government cannot continue to be run this way. A budget and a mechanism for running the government better are all we need.”
A third Gantz adviser said “he will make decisions based on the Likud policies on the budget and the proper functioning of the government, not because of Trump and elections in the US.”
So the US election has come and gone, and apparently did not have any impact on Israeli politics.
There may end up having to be another reason for Israeli politicians to unite.