Benny Gantz's betrayal has secured Israel's right-wing future

The failed dethroning of Netanyahu: Benny Gantz's betrayal has secured Israel's right-wing future
6 min read
15 April, 2020
Unity talks effectively split the Blue and White coalition and ended any semblance of real opposition to Likud, ensuring that Netanyahu will remain the most powerful political figure in Israel.
Gantz has entrapped himself in unity government talks with his rival Benjamin Netanyahu. [Getty]

Benny Gantz's choices in the past two weeks, namely his decision to entrap himself in unity government talks with his rival Benjamin Netanyahu, who heads the right-wing bloc in Israeli politics, has changed the political calculus in Israel.  

The move was seen as a betrayal of Gantz's Blue and White election platform, which focused on the need to 'save Israeli democracy' and 'replace Benjamin Netanyahu' to protect the institutions of the state and maintain a 'Jewish democracy' in Israel.  

Gantz's political choice seemed politically naïve, despite its presentation as a necessary choice to face the crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic in unity.

In fact, the unity talks effectively split the Blue and White coalition and ended any semblance of 
real opposition to the Likud in Israeli politics, thus ensuring that regardless the outcome of unity talks Netanyahu would remain the most powerful political figure in Israel despite facing multiple indictments of corruption and abuse of trust.   

But a closer look at the policies and platform of Blue and White reveals that the contradiction between Likud and Blue and White was not so much about policies but rather style and personalities.  

Read more: Gantz discards Joint List and cedes the throne to Netanyahu

Under the veneer of fighting the right wing's tightening grip on Israeli government policies and the judiciary, Blue and White's main priority was to end Netanyahu's rein and grip on power. It was personal.

This was about power and the fact that Netanyahu had seemingly expended his domestic political cards among the political elite. In contrast, the two parties shared more in common on foreign policy and the Palestinian question than they cared to admit.  

Benny Gantz is one of three figures that formed Blue and White. A novice in politics, Gantz is a military general who was in command of Israel's occupation army from 2011 to December 2018.

During the three election seasons in the past year, Gantz boasted about taking back Gaza to the dark ages during the 2014 war and promised to 
annex the strategic Jordan Valley and prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Read more: Remembering Palestinian Land Day under lockdown   

His ally, Moshe Yaalon, another army general and former Likud member, is an ardent supporter of the settler movement and staunchly opposed to the establishment of a Palestinian state.

In fact, when the US administration announced its disastrous 
plan for permanent occupation and annexation, Gantz welcomed the proposal almost immediately, just as Netanyahu did.  

The fact that Blue and White was hailed as centrist by many in Israel and the United States was in fact nothing more than wishful thinking. The party's policies may have been centrist in relation to preserving the institutions of Israel as a self-proclaimed 'Jewish democracy'.  

Gantz tied his political fate to Netanyahu, who has proven himself a master of outmanoeuvring and undermining any and all rivals across the political spectrum

But ignoring Blue and White's true colours when it comes to institutionalised racism against Palestinian Israelis, the unwavering commitment to the colonial settler agenda of expansion and annexation, and the promise to prevent a viable Palestinian state from ever coming to life was wilfully misleading. It was, however, not surprising.  

Israel's allies, especially among mainstream and some self-described progressive American Jewish organisations have always worked hard to save Israel from its worst inclinations. Netanyahu's 10-year reign had cost Israel much of its international standing and its overtly racist policies and laws were simply impossible to ignore.  

Donald Trump's iron-clad support for the Israeli right-wing was often more reason for Zionist progressives to fear a long-term backlash against Israel, especially among US Democrats. So many believed, against all evidence, that Benny Gantz provided a way out.

Even after announcing unity talks and splintering his party, some 
claimed that Gantz's move would put the brakes on Netanyahu's annexation plans even though Blue and White's political platform and details of these talks belied their wishful thinking.  

Read more: Israel's coronavirus coup: Netanyahu's tightening grip on power bodes badly for Palestinians

So why did a man so intent on replacing Benjamin Netanyahu cave in and tie his future in politics to his nemesis? The answer has two dimensions. On the one hand, the health and economic crisis brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic saw Likud's approval ratings rise sharply. 

This is an opportunity that Netanyahu wasted no time in exploiting, calling on Gantz to shoulder the responsibility with him and save the country from the dangers of the pandemic.  

On the other, Gantz was simply too politically naive and hesitant to conduct hardball negotiations and come up with a viable and convincing alternative that includes the Arab Joint List, which supported his bid to form a government. 

Read more: What the coronavirus outbreak means for Palestinian refugees 

The possibility of a fourth election was too costly for all Zionist political actors in Israel. 
But, rather than playing his cards in a manner that gave Blue and White an advantage, Gantz caved. He abandoned his party's attempt to legislate a ban prohibiting officials facing indictments from assuming office, which had the required votes to pass into law.  

He also discarded his allies, called for a unity government, and nominated himself for the position of Speaker of the Knessetthus dashing any hopes of deposing Netanyahu from the helm of Israeli politics for years to come. 

Palestinians know very well that annexation is not a 'possibility' or 'threat'. It is a reality unfolding before their eyes, stripping them of land, rights, and political options

For Palestinians, these elections were not about a competition between centrists and right-wing hawks. They were about Israel's unmasked truth of colonialism and insatiable appetite for land grab and perpetual occupation competing with a far more presentable and internationally acceptable face of the same agenda.  

Palestinians know very well that annexation is not a "possibility" or "threat". It is a reality unfolding before their eyes, stripping them of land, rights, and political options.

The rise of the right around the world has formed a formidable force of destruction and disruption that has catastrophic and long-term consequences for peoples and around the world, including Palestine. 

Read more: Joint List chooses the butcher's other hand: Benny Gantz

Trump's alliance with the Israeli right is part of a larger tapestry of right-wing unity that covers some of the world's most populace nations, including India and Brazil. The ease with which oppression, racism, discrimination, and unhinged capitalism is taking over the lives of the disenfranchised is terrifying, especially in light of the left's inability to rise, take the lead, and present a convincing and unified alternative.  

This is true in Israel, where the left committed suicide years ago by adopting nationalist and right-wing policies to hang on to power. It's also true in other countries, where the left either failed or was made to fail from within. This broader international reality emboldens right-wing and populist leaders like Netanyahu to take risks, gamble on populist policies, and win.  

Gantz tied his political fate to Netanyahu, who has proven himself a master of outmanoeuvring and undermining any and all rivals on all sides of the spectrum. Regardless the outcome of unity talks, Gantz will most likely fizzle out of politics as quickly as he ballooned to the top.  

The more important consequence for Israelis and Palestinians is that Israeli politics will be locked in hard-right and openly racist mode for the foreseeable future. A real and credible alternative is simply not available.  

Nour Odeh is a political analyst and public diplomacy consultant. A former award-winning journalist, Odeh was also Palestine's first female government spokesperson

Follow her on Twitter: @nour_odeh