With hours to spare, Benny Gantz managed to bring on Yair Lapid and consolidate enough of the left to give himself a real shot at becoming prime minister of Israel
Those of us living in the Western Hemisphere woke up this morning to learn that just ahead of the “trade deadline” in Israeli elections, a date beyond which no changes can be made to the rosters of the parties running in the elections, the two largest left-wing parties have combined forces. “Resiliency for Israel” led by newcomer to politics Benny Gantz and veteran politician’s Yesh Atid (There Is A Future) parties have agreed to run together in the elections. The newly formed party has also added another retired Lieutenant General, ex-Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi. In combining, the two parties have agreed that their heads will, should they form the government, rotate in the prime minister’s chair, with Gantz serving for the first two and a half years, and Lapid for the two years thereafter. While elections in Israel are held on a four years schedule, because this election was held early a new election would not have to be called for four and a half years, assuming the new government can maintain its coalition intact and enjoy a majority in the Knesset.
While this merger does not change the overall bloc picture, it does meet the necessary, though not the sufficient condition for the toppling of the Likud-Netanyahu government and the installation of a left-wing government that relies on the votes of the Arab parties. Under the Israeli system of governance, the titular head of state, President Reuven Rivlin will, as soon as the election results are certified, officially ask the leader of the largest party, meaning the party with the largest number of seats in the Knesset, to form a coalition government and give him 45 days in which to accomplish that task. Prior to the merger, the largest party was expected to be the Likud with just over 30 seats. Benny Gantz came second with only 19 or so. Under these conditions, it would be next to impossible for Gantz to be asked to form the government.
Polls, both public and undoubtedly those commissioned by the parties themselves, predict that the newly combined party will beat the Likud and become the largest faction in the Knesset. Thus, Gantz will be asked to form the government and will be seen as the legitimate choice of the Israeli people. With that legitimacy and the promise of various “goodies” such as ministerial positions and seats on influential Knesset committees, Gantz is likely to peel off one or two smaller parties that are less ideological and more “social/economical”, such as Moshe Kahalon’s Kulanu (All Of Us). Even then, in order to achieve a vote of confidence by at least 61 members of the Knesset, the new government will likely have to rely on the votes of the Arab parties.
Now imagine that after the Alamo the Congress of the newly-formed Republic of Texas had representatives from the Alamo Sucks party, a party that opposes Texan independence and wants Texas to remain a part of Mexico. This is the situation in Israel with respect to the Arab parties in the Knesset. They represent people who oppose the very existence of the country in whose parliament they serve. The reliance on the votes of such representatives by a government that includes three ex-Chiefs of Staff is an ugly quirk of Israeli politics and proves beyond a reasonable doubt that personal ambition often trumps personal integrity and that IDF officers at the highest levels are far from immune to this.
There is still time, a few hours at most, for the Likud to combine with the newly formed HaYamin HaKhadash (New Right) party, co-led by education minister Naftali Bennett and justice minister Ayelet Shaked. That move would restore Likud’s status as the largest party, but it remains to be seen whether egos can be set aside and the unhatched chickens counted before the looming deadline.