Alwaght- On Monday, the Israeli PM-designate Benny Gantz called on President Reuven Rivlin to extend his mandate to form a new government for two weeks as the deadline is arriving. The request comes as his 28-day deadline to present a cabinet to the parliament will end on April 14. As time goes by, Gantz who once was on the summit of success and popularity now finds himself in dire straits as his position weakens.
Netanyahu has been hit by the trial process since 2017 for four corruption cases of him and his wife. His trial in mid-March was postponed for two months. Netanyahu seized the chance and managed to score a last-minute success as he persuaded Gants, the leader of Blue and White bloc, to form a national unity government.
In the third general election within a year, Netanyahu’s Likud party gained 37 and the Blue and White won 34 seats to only linger the political limbo.
Netanyahu’s decline in popularity gave his rival a chance to drive him out of the race as many of the Israeli political elites and parties were ready to support Gantz for the main goal of removal of Netanyahu.
In his calculations, Gantz found it hard to form a government Netanyahu-scale as Likud harvested the largest number of seats of the Knesset. So, he preferred personal interests over the party interests and entered a coalition government with Netanyahu.
The sound of his failure to form a new government is being heard now, however. In the letter to the president for extension of the deadline Gantz sought to justify his failure writing that “the political, healthy, and social crisis made me conclude that although it has heavy individual and political costs, I will do my best to form a coalition government with Likud.”
Rivlin opposed the demand, however, telling him that with regard to the current conditions extending the time was impossible.
Differences of the coalition government
In addition to the political competition that impacts the Gantz-Netanyahu negotiations, some differences on the way of home and foreign policy administration set up roadblocks ahead of the government formation process.
Netanyahu, owing his political life to the hardline Orthodox Jews, in his home and foreign policy seeks the contentment of them, also called Haredi Jews. That is while Gantz is opposed to these groups ideologically and politically and close to the ideas of the former Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman who is also the leader of Yisrael Beiteinu.
Gantz, a politician with military grounds, in the defense strategy adopts a more aggressive approach related to Palestine. That is while Netanyahu adopts a policy of attrition towards the resistant movements like Hamal and Islamic Jihad in Gaza, a Palestinian enclave under Israeli seize for over a decade.
Moreover, Israel Channel 13 reported another division between the two. The report said that Gantz does not oppose annexing some parts of the West Bank. Rather he wants the annexation plan implemented differently. He demands the Jordan Valley and Israeli settlements in the West Bank not included in any annexation.
Gantz also talked about his readiness to talk expanding the Israeli limited rule over the regions west of the West Bank Barrier and Green Line, also called pre-1967 borders.
The two politicians also at odds over internal issues like the ministry of justice and the Likud demand for a possibility to veto the decisions of the Judicial Selection Committee. Experts suggest that Netanyahu’s party seeks a new procedure in the selection of the judges to block the reappointment of Public Prosecutor Shay Nitzan. Nitzan was the judicial figure who approved the indictment against Netanyahu.
The former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert criticized Gantz's performance in an article published by the Maariv newspaper. He said in the three elections, the Blue and White did not address in its campaign the key issues of the government like the relations with the Palestinians, the failure of the educational and social systems, increase of the poverty average, the healthcare system weakness, class gaps, the communications, pollution, and the anti-Arab discrimination.
If Gantz fails to form a government until Monday, the Knesset will designate a new candidate for the post. If the Knesset fails to name a new PM-designate within 21 days, the fourth election will be scheduled.
Although there is still an opportunity for Gantz to be re-tasked with government formation, so far he has lost much of his position to form a government. In the first stage, Gantz lost half of his supporters after reaching the deal with Netanyahu, the Blue and White alliance collapsed, and a great deal of criticism was directed against him by the leftist and centrist parties as well as the United Arab List. In fact, Gantz, who dealt his credibility, has just figured out that he was deceived by Netanyahu and Likud.
Many experts suggest that Likud is waiting for Gantz month-long deadline to end to see his weakness to bargain in the negotiations. Earlier this week, Gantz in a Twitter message said that a unity government could be formed before the Passover vacations but Netanyahu’s behavior blocked that. He added that this week the negotiations between him and Likud to form an emergency cabinet almost ended. Gantz said the halt of the talks was caused by the change in the thought of the Likud leaders.
During the three elections, Netanyahu and Likud faced a tough rival like Gantz. In the friendship with Gantz, they dealt a blow to him they could not deal in the rivalry, however. Now Gantz is in his weakest position. Emad Abu Awad, an expert on Israeli affairs, says that in the upcoming months Netanyahu will adopt the same political approach. “He will try to evade the justice and trial and press for laws that guarantee his presence in power without trial for at least one and half a year or press for blocking bids against him by the Knesset. The analyst added that Netanyahu insists on choosing a Knesset speaker from the Likud party and this will take place in the next months. “He will try to remove from the political scene Gantz and Gabi Eshkenazi,” the analyst went on.
Even if a cabinet is formed with a spinal premiership, because Netanyahu term is ahead of Gantz, it is not clear if the new cabinet will hold until Gantz turn comes. This does not matter for Netanyahu however as he after this period will prepare himself for the president post. So, it seems that the main loser of the unity government game is Gantz. As Gantz’s position weakens, the anti-Netanyahu figures show compromises. For example, Amir Peretz, the Labor Party’s chairman, who earlier rejected an alliance with Netanyahu has recently said he was ready to join a Netanyahu-led government, under the condition of being given the post of the ministry of economy and his deputy being given the post of the ministry of social affairs and social services.