Unveiling the merger with Sa’ar, Gantz hopes it will reopen the path to elusive premieres

Benny Gantz tried and failed to remove Benjamin Netanyahu and become prime minister as leader of an alliance with Yair Lapid in three elections in 2019-2020.

Gantz then broke away from Lapid, thinking he had negotiated a deal with Netanyahu that would eventually give him the premiership, just so that the cunning Likud leader would not surprisingly slip out of it.

So, last year, when Netanyahu was finally defeated after another fourth round of elections, it was a Naftali Bennett-Lapid coalition that mustered the majority. Then first Bennett became prime minister; now it’s Lapid … and Gantz is still waiting.

On Sunday night, Gantz announced his latest tilt at the top job, this time in a collaboration with Gideon Sa’ar. “We are laying the cornerstone for the next government,” he proclaimed confidently, admirably unmoved by past achievements. It would be a government that says “yes to unity for all parts of the country and all types of citizens”, he continued, carefully controlling potential allies after the election: “ultra-orthodox, orthodox, secular; Muslims, Christians, Druze and Jews. “

The alliance between Defense Minister Gantz’s blue and white and Justice Minister Sa’ar’s new hopes seems to make at least limited sense for both of them. Together, they expect to capture support from both the political center and what Gantz defined as “the state-owned right” – a term that seems to refer to right-wing extremists who do not support Netanyahu.

And they reasonably assume that this support will be strengthened on November 1 by their declared refusal to cooperate with unspecified “extremists” – a supposed reference to the Religious Zionism party on the far right, and the common list of mainly Arab parties at the opposite end of the political spectrum.

When Gantz and Sa’ar announced their union, they took no questions from the journalists, and therefore did not provide any specific information about the “broad common ground” that Sa’ar said they have recently found out they share. Judging by their positions to date, their alliance will oppose the Palestinian state, but not the kind of dialogue with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas that Gantz has maintained. They can support reforms to “repair, not destroy” the judicial system, to quote Sa’ar from January 2021. Nor will they likely cooperate with Netanyahu, whom Gantz on Sunday accused of eroding national unity and undermining Israeli democracy.

Ultimately, in fact, what Gantz and Sa’ar unveiled was a pragmatic political alliance between two leaders who serve as ministers in the outgoing anti-Netanyahu coalition, and who hope their partnership will elevate their status within that bloc.

At the very least, while admitting the No. 1 spot on Gantz’s list, Sa’ar has likely averted the threat of political oblivion to his new hope.

But Gantz still nurtures the bigger dream. And he will have come closer to the elusive prime ministerial target if the “state right”, the anti-Netanyahu right, turns out to have swelled considerably since voters were last drawn at the polls less than a year ago.

But if that seems unlikely, Gantz will still hope that his merged party will be strong enough to play a more dominant role in the coalition negotiations than it could when Lapid maneuvered to establish the government last year. Perhaps, just maybe, the calculation after November 1 in the Knesset will pave the way for the premiership of the leader of a center-right alliance, hostile to Netanyahu, but not a curse for the ultra-Orthodox parties. Maybe, just maybe, if Netanyahu again fails to gather a majority, he, rather than Lapid, will be best placed to take the reins.

After all, Gantz ‘Blue and White and Sa’ar’s New Hope already have 14 seats between them in the outgoing Knesset, and will hope that their alliance still proves to be larger than the sum of its current parts. And Naftali Bennett, as Gantz well remembers, found his unlikely path to the prime minister’s office at the head of a party of only seven.

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