By Ramzy Baroud
Shortly after last week’s agreement to form a national emergency government was reached, the leader of the Blue and White alliance, Benny Gantz, tweeted triumphantly that “democracy” in Israel had been “safeguarded.” But how is a deal that grants right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu veto power over the very judicial system that will determine his fate a form of democracy?
In January, Netanyahu was indicted on multiple counts of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. His trial is scheduled for May 24.
By making such an assertion, Gantz is simply deluding himself following one of the most disgraceful acts of political betrayal in the country’s modern history. By agreeing to join forces with Netanyahu’s Likud party, Gantz has demolished his own parliamentary group, which had unified several major parties in one single bloc with the aim of removing Israel’s longest-serving leader from power.
The Blue and White, which until recently consisted of three parties (Israel Resilience, Yesh Atid and Telem), presented itself to voters as a political force that would finally restore some credibility to Israel’s ailing political institutions. Clearly, Israel was not ready for such a mission.
It is convenient to blame Gantz for the collapse of Israel’s once-burgeoning opposition, but the problem with Israel’s political elites is far more complex than that of a single individual. Israeli leaders insist that democracy, transparency and inclusion are achievable, even when millions of the country’s Palestinian citizens are marginalized and continue to be the victims of institutional racism that dates back to the country’s foundation.
Gantz could have formed a government with the help of the Joint List, which is a coalition of Arab and progressive parties and the only Israeli political bloc that represents hope for a better, more inclusive future. The supposed Israeli “centrist,” however, opted to join Netanyahu — and alienate his own allies, Yesh Atid and Telem — rather than meet the reasonable conditions of the Joint List.
The Joint List, which had endorsed Gantz to form a government, merely requested the removal of the so-called nation-state law (which defines Israel as a Jewish state) and the Kaminitz Law (which restricts building in Arab communities), and an end to the occupation of Palestine in accordance with international law.
The Arab parties’ demands were simply too much for Gantz to handle for several reasons. Firstly, Gantz is essentially a right-wing politician and a military hawk, who favors the annexation of the Occupied Territories and has called for even harsher wars on Gaza. Secondly, the Blue and White would not have been able to build a wider coalition if it adhered to any of these demands. This much was made clear by the head of Yisrael Beiteinu, Avigdor Lieberman. Thirdly, Zvi Hauser, one of the Blue and White’s most influential figures, is among the main forces behind the racist nation-state law of July 2018. Expecting Hauser to destroy the jewel of his political achievements was most unrealistic and would have further destabilized a party that had already lost nearly half of its supporters.
Hauser is an interesting character, an ambitious politician and a person to watch, as he will play an important role in Israel’s coalition government. Hauser will now become the “proverbial long arm of the Judicial Appointments Committee,” according to Yossi Verter, writing in Haaretz. This committee was the main stumbling block in the difficult negotiations that preceded the announcement of a government coalition deal between Gantz and Netanyahu.
According to the deal, Netanyahu can accept or reject any of Hauser’s future appointments. Hauser is unlikely to find Netanyahu’s interference unacceptable, simply because he is used to the idea of being Netanyahu’s point man. Indeed, Hauser entered public service in 1994 to serve as the Likud party’s spokesman under Netanyahu, who was the country’s opposition leader at the time. In fact, Hauser’s political career seems to be intrinsically linked to Netanyahu’s.
And here is another common ground between Likud and the Blue and White, which could make the planned annexation of parts of the West Bank and Jordan Valley very much possible. The text of the coalition government agreement mentioned potential annexation of parts of the Occupied Territories as early as the summer, in accordance with US President Donald Trump’s “vision for peace.”
This understanding was by no means a concession by Gantz, who also supports annexation. This is where Hauser’s role becomes vital once more, for it was he who headed the “Coalition for the Israeli Golan,” which championed and promoted Israel’s sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights. Hauser’s wish received a huge boost in March 2019, when Trump signed an order recognizing the Golan Heights as Israeli.
Despite its difficult birth and the Blue and White setback, the Netanyahu-Gantz coalition has more that unites it than meets the eye. For one, Gantz seems to have abandoned his strategy of getting rid of Netanyahu through the courts. With Hauser as a middle man, Netanyahu is, at least for now, relatively safe. Secondly, the annexation of Palestinian territories (despite strong Palestinian and international opposition) is not a point of contention between the coalition partners, but rather a point of agreement. Thirdly, with Gantz’s rejection of a coalition containing the Joint List and Netanyahu’s complete disregard for the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank and Gaza, Palestinians are entirely erased from the political map of Israel’s ruling elites. This is unlikely to change.
There is one positive aspect of Israel’s unpromising coalition — clarity. Knowing Netanyahu’s anti-Palestinian, anti-peace and anti-international law feelings, we have all the clarity needed to understand that no just peace can possibly be achieved while this government rules Israel. The same can be said of Gantz, who preferred to willingly shake the hand of the devil than to find common ground with the leaders of Israel’s Palestinian community.
Even when Netanyahu’s 18-month extension as prime minister expires, a Gantz-led Israeli government is unlikely to fare any better.