It’s been 11 years and five elections since the last time someone other than Benjamin Netanyahu was asked to form a government. Presidents, army chiefs of staff, judges and central bank governors have come and gone. Babies were born, smartphones upgraded and satellites launched. But the man who walked out of the President’s Residence with the job of forming the government was always the same.
This pattern was cut short Wednesday night by someone who didn’t arouse great hopes when he first entered politics, less than a year ago. He did so in the same dignified, conciliatory manner that he has maintained throughout his new career.
Even people who can’t imagine the state without Netanyahu have to admit that Benny Gantz looked prime ministerial (or, in American terms, presidential) Wednesday night. He paid due respect to every segment of Israeli society – the ultra-Orthodox, whom he promised to treat like brothers, Arabs, Druze, gays and rightists. After years of incitement, divisiveness and a systematic fanning of hatred by the man who, just two days ago, racked up his second failure to form a government – the difference in both language and vision was refreshing.
“He gave a perfect speech,” one of the party heads in Netanyahu’s bloc told me the following morning. “His task in the coming month will be to be the Benny from that speech: sympathetic, an advocate of the good, a man of the consensus. So the Likudniks can get used to him, the Haredim can stop fearing him, and all of us can see that the devil isn’t so terrible. Apparently it won’t bring him a government, but it will bring him to an excellent point of departure in advance of the third election, in March.”
That’s just the point. Netanyahu is already in the thick of an election campaign. His narrative – I wanted to establish a Zionist unity government, Gantz wants to establish a minority government based on the support of the Arabs – is already directed at polling stations of the next round. The first course has already been served up, when MKs from the Joint List were seen striding on the red carpet at the President’s Residence on their way to recommending Gantz for the prime ministership. The second course is coming soon, when the head of Kahol Lavan meets with leaders of the factions making up the Joint List – minus Balad. The third course, the winning one from Netanyahu’s point of view, will be served if an attempt is made, whether successful or not, to convene such a minority government, whose days will be short, stormy and bitter.