BENNY is out to break Bibi.
This week, Benny Gantz and his Blue and White party started a very public campaign to grind down Benjamin Netanyahu. For months they have been trying to push the current PM out of politics, and now they have a chance.
It is a delicate dance. They want a Bibi-less unity government, but with Netanyahu’s Likud party. However, Bibi’s power in Likud is such that, at least for now, the party is committed to him.
So, instead of refusing to negotiate with his nemesis Netanyahu, Gantz is talking to him, and putting the devil in the details. He is offering to form a unity government with Likud under Bibi, and even promise Bibi a stint as PM. In two years.
Everyone expects that, if the two biggest parties get their act together, there will be a “rotation” agreement that promises both of their leaders a stint as PM. How can Blue and White, chosen by many voters as the force to topple Bibi, agree to giving him more time as PM?
The answer is to block Netanyahu’s chances of building his own coalition – which Gantz has already done – and now pressure him to accept the booby prize as the best he will get. This is the second stint in a rotation deal, that would start in 2021 by which point Netanyahu is likely to be fighting his corruption cases in court.
Gantz is thought to be stipulating that Netanyahu could take up the PM post only as long as his name is clear. For this to happen, Netanyahu would need to avoid indictment even though state lawyers are set on charging him, or rely on very quick trial that ends in his acquittal, or hope for another formula that would clear his name, like a pardon. Otherwise, Netanyahu will just be negotiating himself a place on the subs bench, but find himself stuck there throughout the match.
Blue and White is beating Bibi at his own game: spin. If its plan pans out and it reduces Bibi to political irrelevance it will, in a few months, take credit for his dominance. But for now, it is framing its offer as an eminently reasonable one that the PM is stubbornly and inexplicably refusing.
Yair Lapid, Gantz’s deputy, said on Monday that for Israel to return to normal “all Benjamin Netanyahu has to do is be second in the rotation. Once that happens we can form a government in 48 hours”.
None of the obvious options look good for Bibi. And with such a bleak outlook, his Likud party, despite politicians’ pledges of allegiance, could see a defection to Blue and White or a move to dump Netanyahu as leader.
This couldn’t be further from what Netanyahu hoped for when he went to the polls, in April and September. A strong government built and run by him could have passed legislation to protect him from prosecution. It’s no wonder that he seems to be holding out for a third election. But the latest polling suggests that his dream of scoring a clear victory in another poll is farfetched.
Israel’s most resilient politician seems to have been backed into a corner, and the nation is waiting to see whether he has a way out.