Gantz Wants a Six-month Coronavirus Government, Netanyahu Wants Annexation

If anyone asked Likud’s Yariv Levin, who’s running Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s negotiations with Benny Gantz’s Kahol Lavan party, which he preferred – to be the justice minister but without extending Israeli sovereignty into the West Bank, or to be badminton minister but with annexation – he wouldn’t bat an eyelash. He'd choose the latter.

His ideological fervor for Greater Israel overrides even his longing to preside over the destruction of the Supreme Court’s independence. But don’t worry, if he's appointed speaker, he’ll make sure to turn the Knesset into a fortress whose artillery is aimed at the hall of justice on the next hilltop.

As of Thursday evening, what to do about U.S. President Donald Trump’s “deal of the century” was the main dispute between Kahol Lavan and Likud, and it delayed the signing of a unity-government deal. Netanyahu was under enormous pressure from the settler right and most of Likud’s Knesset members. They were pushing him to exploit what they believe are the few months left until the propellers of the presidential helicopter tousle Trump's orange hair one last time. Then he'll be replaced by Joe Biden.

– Bibi’s impossible victory and Israel’s corona blind spots

Haaretz Weekly Ep. 72

Ever since Trump’s crooked diplomatic plan was born, the right has sought to raid its pantry: annexation now, a Palestinian state never – just like a child who wants the crust removed from the bread. In the right's view, and apparently in Netanyahu’s as well, it’s now or never.

At the heart of the dispute is the six-month period defined as an “emergency government,” during which Kahol Lavan wants to eschew any diplomatic activity and focus on the health and economic crises. For Netanyahu, Levin and their ilk, this is a death trap. A month before the U.S. presidential election in November, the polls will indicate whether it's a close race. If Israel announces that it’s extending sovereignty to part of the West Bank, Biden, who is well on the way to becoming the Democratic candidate, will send a strong message: Hold your horses, my friends.

Netanyahu feels like he’s standing on his diplomatic legacy’s Mount Nebo – like Moses, he can see the Promised Land but can't enter it. He’s likely to miss his only chance to make a significant mark on Israel’s history. Of the 120 MKs, 67 or 68 are in favor of extending sovereignty: Netanyahu's bloc plus Orli Levi-Abekasis, Moshe Ya’alon, the Derech Eretz breakaways from Kahol Lavan – Yoaz Hendel and Zvi Hauser– and presumably others from Kahol Lavan who would support the move if they could vote their consciences, as Likud proposes.

But Gantz, Gabi Ashkenazi and most Kahol Lavan members oppose an annexation supported by no one but the United States. Gantz and  Ashkenazi aren’t suffused with messianic sentiment. As the people slated to become prime minister and defense minister in October 2021 in the rotation government, they want room to maneuver diplomatically, not facts on the ground that could cause problems with a hostile world, both in our own neighborhood and beyond.