November 23, 2019
Commentary

Is Gantz the new Israeli PM?

Former military chief, Benny Gantz received an official mandate on Wednesday to try to form Israel’s next government, but with no easy path to ending Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s long hold on power.

Netanyahu was given the first opportunity to form a government after assembling a large right-wing bloc but announced this week that he had failed to build a 61-seat majority. Gantz faces similarly steep odds, raising the possibility that Israel will hold a third election in less than a year.

After inconclusive elections in April and September, Gantz’s nomination marked the first time since 2008 that someone other than Netanyahu, 70, has been asked by Israel’s president to build a ruling coalition.

Gantz, head of the centrist Blue and White party, will have 28 days to complete the task assigned by President Reuven Rivlin in a televised ceremony.

Gantz vowed to form a “functioning” unity government that would “strive for peace but know how to defeat every enemy.”

A lifelong military man, Gantz has presented himself as a practical leader who can bridge Israel’s many divisions and address the various security threats it faces.

His low-key campaign was in sharp contrast to Netanyahu’s, which was marked by breathless announcements about a suspected Iranian nuclear site and plans to annex large parts of the occupied West Bank.

Gantz also presents himself as a more trustworthy alternative to the scandal-plagued Netanyahu and may hope to evoke past generals who became statesmen, including Moshe Dayan, Yitzhak Rabin and Ariel Sharon.

But he faces steep odds in every possible path to forming a government. He has been endorsed by just 54 lawmakers representing an array of parties that are unlikely to sit together in a coalition.

Both Gantz and Netanyahu say they favor a national unity government. Together, Netanyahu’s Likud and Gantz’s Blue and White control a solid 65-seat majority. But the two men are divided over who should lead any new government.

Netanyahu has insisted he head the government, at least for the first two years, and that it include his right-wing allies, conditions that Gantz has repeatedly rejected.

Netanyahu is likely to be indicted on corruption charges in the coming weeks, and Gantz has said Netanyahu should resolve his legal troubles before returning to the top post.

Blue and White nevertheless invited Likud negotiators to a meeting planned for Thursday.

Addressing Netanyahu on Wednesday, Gantz called him a “patriot” and said he hoped he could resolve his legal issues.

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