Where to go after Israel's third election in a year next week?

I still believe today that since the Israeli electorate is split more or less down the middle on the question of yes Bibi or no Bibi, our only hope is a national unity government.

ANOTHER ELECTION is almost here. (photo credit: REUTERS)
ANOTHER ELECTION is almost here.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
As in the case of the two previous election campaigns in the last year, the current one is being held largely around schools of red herrings, allegedly pertinent to the elections, but in fact, ploys to divert attention from the real issues.
For example, the sudden preoccupation with two old affairs. The first concerning a company that no longer exists called The Fifth Dimension, that engaged in the development of artificial intelligence for military and law enforcement intelligence applications, which in 2016 provided the police with a pilot of a system the latter was interested in, and for which it received NIS 4 million. Benny Gantz was chairman of the company’s board of directors at the time.
The second concerns the so-called Harpaz Affair of 2010, around the appointment of a new chief of staff after the approaching retirement from the position of Gabi Ashkenazi (today one of the quartet leading Blue and White), which ended with Benny Gantz being appointed to the job rather than Yoav Gallant – today a government minister from the Likud Party.
The case of The Fifth Dimension emerged as a result of the publication of the State Comptroller’s Report in March 2019, which inter alia dealt with irregularities in the procurement mechanism of the police, of which The Fifth Dimension was an example. The irregularities included that no tender had been held by the police before the deal for the pilot, and that the procedures for a NIS 50m. project that was to follow were concluded. Further problems were that there were major discrepancies between the information that The Fifth Dimension had provided about itself, its proven capabilities and the gap between them and the actual facts. Gantz himself was not accused of any wrongdoing, and even the current acting State Attorney, who is planning to open a criminal investigation on the affair before the elections next week, has said that Gantz is not a suspect.
All this has not prevented the Likud from questioning Gantz’s personal integrity, falsely accusing him of pocketing the NIS 4m. paid to The Fifth Dimension and having been personally involved in misleading the police. The project itself never materialized because The Fifth Dimension closed down in 2018, without any connection to the deal with the police or to Gantz’s entry into politics.
The Harpaz Affair involved a fake document – allegedly prepared at Gallant’s behest – which proposed a smear campaign against his rivals for the position of chief of staff. To the present day it is not known who initiated the document, though its actual author – a former intelligence officer called Boaz Harpaz – was identified and punished. Some claimed that it had been initiated by then Minister of Defense Ehud Barak, while others accused Ashkenazi. At the time, the conduct of both Barak and Ashkenazi regarding this affair was rather dodgy, reflecting the distrust and disturbed relations between the two.
Netanyahu’s interest in turning this Harpaz affair into an item in the current election campaign, is his desire to break the image of the leaders of Blue and White as ‘Messrs. Clean.’ With regards to Ashkenazi it has been suggested that Netanyahu suspects that a conspiracy against himself started to evolve between Ashkenazi and Avichai Mandelblit, the current attorney general who decided to indict him, and who was the IDF military advocate-general at the time of the Harpaz affair. Netanyahu is now demanding from Ashkenazi to agree to lift the privilege from all his recorded phone calls at that time (only part of which are currently available), including conversations with Mandelblit that allegedly took place in August 2010.
One may argue whether the two affairs ought to be investigated further, but is this really what the elections are about? Even if it were to be found that Gantz has some blame in the case of The Fifth Dimension contract with the police, and that Ashkenazi plotted with Mandelblit back in 2010 against Netanyahu (both highly unlikely scenarios), what does all of this have to do with the current elections? This seems to be an attempt to divert attention from the charge sheet with which Netanyahu will have to start contending as of March 17 when his trial will open (unless Avigdor Liberman, head of Yisrael Beytenu is right, and Netanyahu is trying to reach a plea bargain with the State Attorney’s Office before March 17).
As I believed before the April 2019 elections, I still believe today that since the Israeli electorate is split more or less down the middle on the question of yes Bibi or no Bibi, the only arrangement that can save Israel from a continuation of the deliberate destruction of what remains of any semblance of unity and sense of collectivity in our society, is a national unity government. This form would help prevent the continued strengthening of the extreme right, the further deliberate erosion of the pillars of our democratic system and various degrees of corruption and lying from becoming an inherent part of our government system.
I also believe that Netanyahu, under whose much-too-long reign all these negative phenomena have been allowed to flourish, cannot be part of this government. This is not only because he is about to stand trial on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, but also because he is used to being a one-man-show. Real unity must be based on truly sharing power.
Perhaps Benny Gantz is a little overly optimistic when he says that absent Netanyahu it would take 10 minutes to form a national unity government in which about 80% of the major issues on our national agenda would be under consensus. Nonetheless, I am sure that without Netanyahu, and without all the knotty issues involved in his approaching trial, the healing process in the Israeli society and body politic will be simplified.
Unfortunately, in addition to Netanyahu’s dream of another narrow right-wing religious coalition, which will help him try to wriggle out of his legal predicament, many leading figures from the Likud and its “natural” coalition partners continue to yearn for another narrow government, uncontaminated by secular lefties and “disloyal, terror supporting Arabs.” They must be aware that any narrow coalition today – whether Right-religious or center-Left-Arab – will merely lead Israel in the direction of instability and domestic turmoil.
Back in 2015, I was opposed to the Zionist Union joining Netanyahu’s fourth government, arguing that after one term of a narrow, Right-religious government, the Israeli electorate would come back to its senses – a repetition of what happened in the 1992 elections, after two years of Yitzhak Shamir’s weak, narrow, Right-religious government of 1990-1992. Today I realize that I was wrong, and that there is no alternative to a national unity government, made up of the two largest parties and several smaller ones.
I do not know whether, as Gantz claims, Blue and White and the Likud agree on 80% of the issues on the national agenda, but I am sure that they can reach workable practical compromises on most of them, if they will only set their minds to doing so.