Netanyahu Fails to Gain Immunity, but Gantz Just Gave Him the Next Best Thing

In a concealed corner of Ben Gurion Airport, a converted Boeing 767 sits glistening in its new blue paint scheme. The controversial “prime minister’s plane,” hundreds of millions of shekels over budget and years behind schedule, is ready for takeoff but has nowhere to go. The employees of Israel Aerospace Industries have spent months speculating and joking over who will be the first premier to board it. With the world under coronavirus lockdown, that maiden flight may not happen for some time. But it is now clear which couple will be using the bedroom at 38,000 feet: the Netanyahus.

“I thank Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his service for 10 years. We will continue from here,” Benny Gantz said in his maiden political speech on January, 29, 2019, when he launched his Israel Resilience party. That quickly evolved into Kahol Lavan, which last month split into four parties and Netanyahu has meanwhile added another year in service.

Under the terms of the coalition agreement Gantz signed on Monday, the Kahol Lavan leader will be thanking Netanyahu for another year and a half of service in November 2021, and then welcoming him as his deputy.

This isn’t a power-sharing deal – it’s a contract. Netanyahu hasn’t gained a partner in Gantz; he’s hired a bodyguard who is now bound to him for the next three years at least.

From being the moral voice for the last 15 months by calling for the removal of an indicted prime minister, Gantz is now the indicted prime minister’s chief protector and defender. He is contractually obliged to safeguard Netanyahu’s position – not only for the next 18 months while he remains prime minister, but for the entire three years, including the second half when Netanyahu is deputy premier but the real power in government, as he will still have the allegiance of three-quarters of the Knesset’s lawmakers.

Over the coming years, as Netanyahu goes on trial for bribery, fraud and breach of trust, with all the sordid details coming out in court and quite likely new investigations opening on his stock trading and allegations of breaching election-funding laws, Gantz will now have to defend his remaining in office – not only against the center-left opposition Gantz led not so long ago, but against potential Likud rivals as well. Under the terms of the agreement, only Netanyahu and Gantz can serve as prime minister.

Benny Gantz in the Knesset, April 20, 2020.Emil Salman

Gantz didn’t concede defeat on Monday upon signing the coalition deal. He did that seven weeks ago, during his Election Night speech where he no longer bade farewell to Netanyahu and no longer insisted he would not serve under a prime minister facing criminal charges. Instead, Gantz set out his single remaining red line: “Criminal procedures must be dealt with in court.” That’s it. As long as Netanyahu is prepared to face the judges in Jerusalem District Court, he can remain as prime minister or deputy prime minister.