Reality Check: Gantz, Don’t give in

The sad truth is that Netanyahu is not a man to be trusted

BENNY GANTZ (photo credit: REUTERS)
(photo credit: REUTERS)
There was a time, back in the previous century during his first spell as prime minister, when Benjamin Netanyahu had no expectation of blind loyalty from his fellow Likud ministers. Potential leadership rivals were not accused of sticking a knife in his back, and sharp disagreements were open, and part and parcel of the regular political discourse.
In one such raucous Likud central committee meeting, typical of the times, Netanyahu called on the right-wing faction of the party, led (ironically in hindsight) by Ariel Sharon, to support him.
“Arik,” Netanyahu called out, “help me.”
To which Sharon memorably replied that he would gladly come to Netanyahu’s assistance, but “I don’t know which hand of yours to help, your right hand or your left hand.”
Even back then, Netanyahu’s trustworthiness was an issue. Sharon was referring to Netanyahu’s campaigning in 1996 on a clear, right-wing anti-Oslo platform, and yet going on, in 1998, to sign the Wye River Memorandum with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, which aimed to resume the implementation of the 1995 Oslo II Accord and under which Israel transferred part of the West Bank to the Palestinian Authority.
Decades later, the status of Netanyahu’s honesty, or lack thereof, became an issue at an international summit when right-wing French president Nicolas Sarkozy was caught on camera telling US leader Barack Obama: “I cannot stand him [Netanyahu]. He’s a liar.” Obama was only slightly more diplomatic, replying: “You’re fed up with him? I have to deal with him every day.”
More recently, and more to the point of current events, Netanyahu insisted in a television interview before the April elections that he would not seek Knesset immunity from any possible criminal charges, dogmatically insisting such a move was “out of the question.”
Now that these charges have moved beyond the bounds of possibility to reality, Netanyahu is backtracking on this commitment, too. In his meeting last week with Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, when Gantz asked him if would request immunity, Netanyahu’s answer was an ambivalent “I don’t know.”
Which is why Gantz is right not to break his word to the electorate and agree to Blue and White sitting in a national-unity government that would first be led by Netanyahu as prime minister, even if just for a six-month period at the beginning, as suggested by the Likud.
The sad truth is that Netanyahu is not a man to be trusted. Facing three indictments, including one on a charge of bribery, Netanyahu will do whatever he can to avoid standing trial as a regular citizen and not as prime minister. Rightly, Netanyahu assumes that a court will find it much harder to convict a sitting prime minister as opposed to a former prime minister. Ehud Olmert has already proved that ex-premiers can do jail time.
Despite the pressure Gantz is under to capitulate and save Israel from a third set of Knesset elections in the space of the year, it is vital for Israel’s well-being that he does not give in to Netanyahu’s demands.
The argument that since Netanyahu will be prime minister of a transitory administration for the next six months if we go to elections in March, it therefore makes no difference if he’s prime minister of a national-unity government for the next six months, is totally specious.
Giving Netanyahu six months in charge of a new government simply means handing our indicted prime minister another half year in which to plan and plot more ways to avoid facing trial as an ex-prime minister. We have seen throughout the police investigation into his affairs and the post-indictment recommendation hearing, just how creative Netanyahu can be in ensuring the process drags on for eternity.
And just as importantly, Gantz pledged that he would not sit under Netanyahu if the latter was served with an indictment. Now that the prime minister has been charged, Gantz would be betraying his voters if he went back on his words.
Israeli citizens do not deserve having to face a third round of elections in the space of 12 months, but nor do they deserve a government headed, if even for six months, by a leader under indictment for bribery charges. In any other Western democracy, such a leader would have had the decency to resign, the minute charges were brought or, as in the case of former prime minister Olmert, even before they were officially filed.
Israelis do deserve a government headed by someone who sticks to their word. This is why Gantz must ignore the calls in the next 48 hours to back down and agree to a national-unity government initially headed by Netanyahu.
Just think how refreshing this will be: a political leader who can be trusted. The ramifications will be felt very quickly, particularly in the Likud, who will wake up very quickly to the fact that an indicted Netanyahu has seriously weakened their grip on power.
By keeping to his word, Gantz has the opportunity to clean out the tarnished Israeli political stables.
The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.