Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, conceded key positions he’d maintained in prior unity government negotiations; and he and Bibi Netanyahu announced they’d reached an agreement to form what they are calling an “emergency government,” but which others are more aptly calling a “transitional government.” There were several key obstacles to achieving the final deal. Among them Gantz wanted to ensure Netanyahu would hand over power to him rotation after 18 months. Netanyahu wanted to guarantee that Gantz could not topple him before the 18 months had expired. And Gantz wanted control of the judicial nominating process so that the Likud could not pack the courts with allies who would offer Netanyahu immunity from the corruption charges he faces.
While the two Parties had worked out the first two sticking points, after an initial Likud agreement on the judicial nominations, Netanyahu reneged. That sent the negotiations back to square one. It was then that time ran out and Pres. Rivlin took the mandate away from both and handed it to the Knesset. Had 21 days elapsed with no prime minister forthcoming, the country would have resorted to its fourth election in the past year.
Gantz and Netanyahu played a deft and deadly game of chicken to see who would blink first: was Gantz going to cave because polls showed him being buried if a court election were to be held? Was Netanyahu going to cave because he feared Gantz’s threat to pass legislation that would prohibit a prime minister under indictment from serving? In the end, Gantz blinked first and foreswore control of judicial appointments.
When Gantz first abandoned his Opposition colleagues to join the unity government, I predicted that Netanyahu would outmaneuver Gantz; and that he would end up in the political dustheap. Though this hasn’t been fully realized yet, Gantz is well on his way to oblivion. Some Israelis, desperate to avoid election number 4, clamored for a unity government. But Blue and White’s most loyal voters generally despise him for betraying his oft-repeated promise never to serve in a government with an indicted PM. If you went to the polls now, Gantz couldn’t be elected dog catcher.
No Israeli journalist actually believes Gantz will rotate into prime ministers seat in 18 months. At least no self respecting one
— Mairav Zonszein מרב זונשיין (@MairavZ) April 21, 2020
Hardly any Israeli believes that Gantz will actually become prime minister, despite the verbiage in the agreement which guarantees it. All it will take to obviate the agreement is the withdrawal of either party. If Netanyahu doesn’t like the color of Gantz’s suit, he can pull his minions out of the deal and go to new elections.
The key events to look forward to in the short run are the corruption trial scheduled to resume sometime in May, after the courts reopen. A conviction would certainly lead to an appeal to the Supreme Court. It would have to rule both on the conviction itself; then it would likely have to rule on the question of removing Netanyahu from office. These will be two critical tests of the Israeli political system. The Court’s decision is by no means certain, though it is a decidedly right-wing court which tends to defer to its ideological colleagues in the Knesset.
If the Court removes him from office, Netanyahu can still appeal to the Knesset to overrule the judiciary. It’s unlikely he has enough votes in this Knesset to win on this issue. But he can make a dramatic flourish and topple the government, bringing on new elections which might yield a more favorable political configuration (current polls say Likud would win 40 seats were new elections held today, it holds 33 today).
Another critical decision for the incoming government is the issue of annexation of the Jordan Valley. Netanyahu has long promised he would do so; and during the campaign Gantz mouthed his support for the concept almost as an afterthought. The Trump administration, of course, never met an Israeli apartheid policy it didn’t like. It will offer the rubber stamp of approval.
Interestingly, the dean of the Israel Lobby think tank elite, Dennis Ross, offered this eulogy for the two-state solution in the event of annexation:
Israel’s new government allows PM Netanyahu to raise unilateral annexation on July 1. He needs Trump’s agreement to implement it. That’s the only condition; it will take a Palestinian counteroffer or key Arab leaders weighing in to stop it. 1 state for 2 peoples is more likely.
— Dennis Ross (@AmbDennisRoss) April 20, 2020
“One state for two peoples is more likely.” This coming from the liberal Zionist champion of every Israeli government in recent memory. The problem, of course, is that policy wonks like Ross toss these threats off casually without really believing them. They’re meant to scare the parties into negotiating earnestly. This issue will only be addressed realistically when people like him realize that there no longer is a two-state solution; and begin considering seriously what could take its place. The one-state solution is the only viable one. But neither Israelis, American Jewish leaders, or senior policy advisors have accepted its death. Even Bernie Sanders and his liberal Zionist foreign policy advisor are cloning to it like a life raft from the Titanic. They’re still in Kubler-Ross’ first stage of grief: denial. Their problem is that they’ve had years to progress through the remaining stages of anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, and remain stuck in the first stage.
What will follow from such annexation? The support of American Jewry will continue to wane, though the Israel Lobby will remain loyal to the end. Israel’s alliance with Christian evangelicals and white supremacists will strengthen. International bodies like the EU and United Nations will continue their ineffectual remonstrations. Nevertheless, Israel will creep ever closer to ostracism on the world stage. The BDS movement will strengthen as one of the few effective grassroots campaigns putting its body on the line against apartheid.
Annexation seems inevitable. It will lead, inexorably, as Ross predicts (rather feebly) to a one-state solution. It, of course, will not be a democratic solution. Israel would never permit full equality to all Palestinians (inside Israel and the Occupied Territories). IT will concoct an apartheid solution that would have made the Boers proud. As we proceed down the road to Palestinian bantustans, what will happen? My belief is that a house divided against itself cannot stand. Just as the Berlin Wall fell after fifty years of Communist rule; and Jim Crow dissolved after 80 years of Southern white domination; and Northern Ireland created a power-sharing arrangement that resolved 40 years of sectarian violence, eventually apartheid Israel must fall under the burden of its internal contradictions.
Martin Luther King famously said: “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” The question the world must answer in regard to Israel-Palestine is: does the arc bend or does it snap?
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.