Is it wise for Arabs to support Gantz for Israeli Prime Minister?

First published by the Arab Weekly on 28/9/2019

Blue and White does not endorse a two-state solution nor does it commit to rescinding the annexation of occupied East Jerusalem and the Syrian Golan Heights.

Israel’s Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz delivers a statement in Tel Aviv, September 19. (AP)

The outcome of Israel’s second election in less than a year was predictable: No single party achieved a majority to govern on its own.

Likud, led by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, achieved 32 seats, while the relatively new Blue and White alliance led by Benny Gantz won 33 seats. The third-largest party was the mainly Arab Joint List, led by Ayman Odeh, which secured 13 seats.

Avigdor Lieberman, leader of the right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party, which won eight seats, emerged once more as the election’s kingmaker.

Netanyahu’s bloc, composed of right-wing and ultra-orthodox parties, has 55 out of 120 Knesset seats. The centre-left bloc, excluding Arab parties, has 44 seats.

Party leaders have concluded their discussions with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin regarding their nominee for prime minster. Rivlin’s attempts to convince Gantz and Netanyahu to form a unity government failed and he has mandated Netanyahu to form a government.

Israel’s basic law on the government states that the first Knesset member to be tasked with forming a new government has 28 days to do so, after which that person can request an extension of up to 14 days. At any time during this period, the lawmaker can inform the president that they are unable to form a government and let him give the mandate to someone else.

Netanyahu’s chances of forming a government appear limited as very little has changed since his attempt last April. This means Israel could be heading for the third set of elections, while Netanyahu could be indicted in three corruption cases.

If he fails to form a government this time, Rivlin could ask Gantz or another member of the Israeli parliament to try to put together a government. Otherwise, the outcome would be another election, something Rivlin said the country does not want.

In the hustle and bustle of the election season, one of the most intriguing announcements was that parts of the Joint List had confirmed they would nominate Gantz to lead the government to ensure Netanyahu would not be nominated to form the next government.

Only the Balad party refused to endorse Gantz’s nomination by the other members of the Joint List, leaving Odeh with ten out of 13 mandates to use in his endeavours to secure a Gantz premiership. Mtanes Shehadeh, Balad party leader, told Israeli media: “We always said we won’t support recommending Gantz. They don’t have Balad’s support. We are four partner parties. No one can force the other on matters of principle.”

For 27 years, member parties of the Joint List made a rule of refusing to nominate a candidate for prime minister. It was therefore a surprise to see them support Gantz for the position, particularly because his policies are strongly at odds with theirs.

Gantz, a former army chief who led the deadly 2014 assault on Gaza, used his achievements in an election video to try to convince Israeli voters that he was the candidate to back to ensure Israel’s security. He leads an alliance that includes former military leaders Moshe Ya’alon and Gabi Ashkenazi. Each has a contentious record with the Palestinians, particularly in Gaza.

 When Netanyahu promised to annex the Jordan Valley and the northern Dead Sea, Blue and White stopped short of condemning him for hurting peace prospects. Instead, the alliance accused him of using the position as an election ploy that copied the Blue and White vow to ensure the area remained Israeli “forever.”

“The residents of the Jordan Valley are not Netanyahu’s propaganda props,” the Blue and White statement said. “Blue and White has declared that the Jordan Valley will be part of Israel forever. It was Netanyahu who concocted a plan to surrender the Jordan Valley in [peace talks in] 2014.”

It is also the case that Gantz would never invite members of the Joint List to join his government, despite their support. His alliance’s policies do not provide for greater equality between Israeli citizens. They do not call for annulling the nation-state law or for ending the settlement enterprise. Blue and White does not endorse a two-state solution nor does it commit to rescinding the annexation of occupied East Jerusalem and the Syrian Golan Heights. The alliance does not commit to ending the siege on Gaza.

With such Gantz’s party having such a Zionist and anti-peace platform, the wisdom of members of the Joint List nominating him has been called into question. By recognising and contributing to a political process that would bring a government that would not meet the very basic needs of the Palestinian citizens of Israel, the parties are failing the very people they claim to represent.

The strategy may also drive a wedge between members of the list, which many worked hard to bring together for this election following their failure to do so in April. This may cause tensions within the list if a third election is called.

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