This article is translated from the Israel Ma'ariv newspaper and appeared in the Israel News Today service on February 4, 2019.
The excitement surrounding the meeting between Benny Gantz and Gabi Ashkenazi that was supposed to have been held yesterday evening is superfluous. The two of them have met on several occasions beneath the radar, and have spoken with one another even more often. They don’t need to be introduced to one another. The 19th chief of staff and the 20th chief of staff don’t need mediators. Gantz wants Ashkenazi almost desperately. Ashkenazi, for the time being, isn’t willing to come on his own. Out of the entire group of generals and potential leaders in the center-left bloc, Ashkenazi is the only who isn’t motivated by his own ego or future status. He is willing to “come under the stretcher in the most difficult place,” in the best of the Golani Brigade’s tradition, but only if that is worth the effort. In other words: a large merger with Yair Lapid will be worth making that effort.
Ashkenazi isn’t just a player in this game. He’s the mediator. He is the person who is trying to square the circle, or to draw a circle around Gantz and Lapid. Ashkenazi understands people and he knows how to talk to people. He’s been talking at high intensity with Yair Lapid for the past three years. He also has spoken with Moshe Yaalon at a similar intensity during the same period. He has met countless times with Moshe Kahlon and other people. His work plan is to create a “dream team” in the center-left that will be able to extricate Israel from the dead-end it has fallen into. Once upon a time that was to have been a united front comprised of Kahlon-Lapid-Ashkenazi, but in the meantime a new elephant has entered the center-left’s living room and goes by the name of Benny Gantz. So the story now is to bring Gantz and Lapid together.
Rotation [i.e. an alternating leadership] is the magic word, but it hasn’t done the trick. Livni and Herzog abandoned it in a panic in the eleventh hour of the last round, and for good reason. It’s clear to Ashkenazi that Gantz won’t concede first place given his current standing in the polls. The person who is going to have to make the concession, apparently, is Lapid. With that being the case, a situation needs to be created that will help Lapid climb out of the tree that he planted, watered, fertilized, grew and nurtured for the past seven years. A package with adequate compensation and bonuses needs to be assembled to help Lapid cross his personal Rubicon.
A lot of ideas have been raised in the context of that plan. The governing principle is as follows: the new party—the one that is to be formed by Gantz, Yaalon, Lapid and Ashkenazi—will be led by that quartet. Yaalon describes it as a “joint cockpit,” but he wasn’t the one who originally came up with the idea. He heard it from someone else. It might also be dubbed the “council of prime ministers” or the “kitchen cabinet.” It needs to be clear that as opposed to the dictatorship that has evolved in the Likud, this party will be led by that quartet, come hell or high water. Gantz will be number one, a first among equals, but all decisions will be made by the forum of four (Gantz can be given an extra vote in the event of a tie).
Other ideas have also been raised. One is to have Lapid be in charge in the election campaign. That is his field of expertise, and no one can do that better than he can. Moreover, in the elections to follow, the person who ranks first in the party will be decided anew, be that by means of a party primary (among Yesh Atid registered members and activists in Gantz and Yaalon’s parties), or on the basis of an agreement in advance that if the party fails this time to win, next time will be Lapid’s turn. That can be supplemented by a decision that in the event that another party forms the next government, Lapid will have first pick of ministerial portfolios. And so on and so forth. One thing is clear: Gantz, Ashkenazi and Yaalon all know that the key changing the dynamic and to turning the upcoming elections into a real opportunity is hooking up with Yesh Atid’s army of volunteers and its well-oiled machine, as well as its large base of popular support.
It is hard to anticipate how this is going to end. It is obvious that it isn’t going to end this week. Nothing is going to come to a head just yet both so as to retain the element of surprise and because that’s the way things get done in Israel. The deadline dictates the timetable. There is also a lot of psychology involved here. There are a lot of people, a lot of egos, a lot of ambitions, frustrations, hurt feelings and dreams. At the end of the day, as Ehud Barak said, the four above-mentioned gentlemen are all going to have enter a single room and emerge from it with a solution. Three chiefs of staff and one Lapid. If someone is able to persuade Lapid that this an historic opportunity that mustn’t be missed, even at the price of a temporary personal concession, they will unite. And vice versa.
Meanwhile, the process within the Likud that is turning that illustrious governing party into a junta has continued. There are always going to be blacklists, and the prime minister will always deny their existence the moment after his personal newspaper publishes them after receiving the names from him (or from one of his aides), but the story is Gidon Saar. It turns out that the “plot of the century” is still alive and kicking, at least in the residence on Balfour Street. Just take note: Netanyahu has vaunted his own presumption of innocence, has insisted that he remain in his position even if he is indicted after a hearing, is clinging to his seat and has told the public that all of his former confidants who have turned state’s witness and all of his personal appointees who are overseeing the investigation are trying to frame him, despite the abundance of evidence, recordings, testimonies, text messages and witnesses.
But he has tried, convicted and executed Gidon Saar because “more than two-three people came to me,” as the prime minister of Israel said. They came to him and told him about the horrifying plot that Gidon Saar shared with them. Not a single journalist in Israel has ever succeeded in locating those “more than two- three people.” There isn’t a single Likud activist who can even point in their presumed direction.
Saar can be accused of a lot of things, but stupidity isn’t one of them. Even if he were hatching a plot of that kind, he wouldn’t tell anyone about it. This is a delusion. Saar chose, and justly so, not to get drawn into that filthy quagmire. Saar, who stood by Netanyahu during the most difficult moments in his career, who remained true to Netanyahu even after the crushing defeat in 1999, who put down the rebellion against Netanyahu after his defeat in 2006, who masterfully dismantled the Olmert government and prevented Tzipi Livni from forming an alternative government while sewing together the Netanyahu government that was formed in 2009 despite the fact that Bibi actually lost those elections to Livni—he is the enemy of the people, the Likud, humanity and the universe. And everyone applauds.