If it looks like an election, walks like an election and quacks like an election, we all know what’s in store. If by midnight on Monday the Israeli government can’t reach the agreements it needs to, the Knesset will be dissolved. The way both sides have been acting these past few days, it seems as if no one has made a final decision to hold another election, but every day that passes leaves the crisis unsolved and getting progressively worse. Everyone has climbed up too high on the barricades.
On Wednesday, Blue and White leader Benny Gantz almost broke. As far as he was concerned, he could have compromised on what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was asking—to postpone the vote on the state budget by 100 days and buy himself a few more months of quiet, at least until the next crisis. Gantz’s chief of staff, Hod Batzar, carried a message to that effect to Netanyahu’s representatives in the Likud. But Gantz was paralyzed. He couldn’t move. Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi was keeping him down.
The fallout from Ashkenazi’s extensive attempts to force an early election was visible to all, and it reached Netanyahu’s inner circle. It turned out that Ashkenazi would not allow Gantz to make any compromise at all. For some time now, he has been focused on what will happen when Gantz is no longer in charge. He has even done some polling. There is no way of knowing what he saw in the results, but it’s clear that after the results were in, he started throwing monkey wrenches into the wheels of government and doing everything he could to bring it down.
The question Gantz is turning over in his mind is whether giving in will eradicate the threat of an election. Now that the original Blue and White “cockpit” has been slashed in half, with the departure of Yair Lapid and Moshe Ya’alon, recent days have seen a new cockpit put in place. There might not be a Whatsapp group yet, or any official name, but like the previous one, this is a quartet: Gantz, Ashkenazi, Justice Minister Avi Nissankoren, and Labor Party leader Amir Peretz.
If that last name surprises anyone, because he’s from a different party, it’s already fairly clear that Labor will be an inseparable part of the next Blue and White Knesset list. Peretz could be seen as the person from his bench who least wants a new election, but in the new consulting forum, he is taking the most aggressive line. Peretz has been saying that there must be no compromise on Netanyahu’s requests, especially on such a core issue as the appointment of senior law enforcement officials.
Thus Gantz finds himself facing off against his cohort, nearly alone in thinking that he should consider a compromise. In the background, there are others who are urging a compromise—Diaspora Affairs Minister Omer Yankelevich (Israel Resilience Party), Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services Minister Itzik Shmuli (Labor) and a few other ministers. But their voices are almost drowned out by the three at the top.
If there is another election, and Gantz, as it is looking increasingly likely that he will, decides to reserve places on the Blue and White list for Peretz and Shmuli, there will be very little room on the list. If Gantz, Ashkenazi, Peretz, Shmuli, and Yehiel Tropper (Blue and White) are all guaranteed spots, it leaves only about four “realistic” places for everyone else.
That isn’t a bad opening position for Netanyahu to be in when and if he forms a new government comprising only parties from the right. Starting numbers like that should spur Blue and White MKs to abandon the sinking ship and join the other side. For now, that isn’t happening, but who knows what the future holds?
Mati Tuchfeld writes for Israel Hayom.
This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.