Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – Basil Maghribi of the Israeli newspaper Arab 48 reports that on Friday, outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu made a last-ditch attempt to derail parliament’s installation of the Change Coalition as the Israeli government, which is expected to take place on Sunday.
Netanyahu sent people from his circle to talk to people in the circle of Benny Gantz, leader of the center-right Blue and White Party, offering to resign “today” as prime minister in favor of Gantz if only the latter would defect from the Change coalition and join his far right likud-led government.
Netanyahu in his past 12 years a prime minister has gained a reputation for being ruthless, unprincipled, and a backstabber. Apparently Netanyahu foresaw that his offer would lack credibility, since nothing prevented him from reneging on it as soon as he succeeded in breaking up Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid-led Change alliance. (Yesh Atid [“There is a Future”] is a centrist party.) He therefore is reported to have guaranteed Gantz that Blue and White could return to the Change fold within 48 hours if Netanyahu tried to pull the old switcheroo.
Israel’s Channel 12 reported the development, and said that Gantz greeted the offer with a decisive “no.”
This episode reminds me of the 2011 Arab Spring, when Arab dictators, after weeks of demonstrations and the occupation of city squares, began to see the writing on the wall and started trying to negotiate their futures instead of angrily giving orders “or else.”
The dictator of Tunisia, Zein El Abidin Bin Ali, offered on January 14, 2011, not to run again for the presidency in 2014 (he always won with 99 percent of the vote whenever he ran), and to institute new personal freedoms. The offer mollified no one, and on January 15 he had to flee to Saudi Arabia.
The authoritarian Hosni Mubarak, who came to power in Egypt in 1981, was overthrown in February of 2011. Before the army finally just put him on a helicopter to Sharm El Shaikh, he came out and offered to resign the following September. Of course, the youth revolutionaries could not trust him actually to step down after the passage of several months, when the street crowds would have evaporated and the pressure would be off. Then Mubarak offered to resign on Thursday evening, February 10, in a televised speech. But he could not bring himself to do so, and the army sent him away from the capital on February 11.
So now, just like Ben Ali and Mubarak, Netanyahu is offering to resign as prime minister as long as his Likud can remain in the ruling coalition rather than going into the opposition. Long-serving authoritarian rulers are all alike, bargaining for some better deal that just being forced entirely out of office immediately.
Gantz had already been in a national unity government, last year, led by Netanyahu and is apparently done with him. Defense Minister Gantz, on the center-right, is quarreling with Netanyahu over illegal Israeli squatter-settlements on the Palestinian West Bank. I mean, all of them are illegal by the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949. But even the Israeli government considers Israeli wild men who just up and move to the West Bank and squat on Palestinian land without any Israeli government permit or backing to be doing something illegal. The government’s main concern is not stealing Palestinian land but that the “illegal” settlements are often isolated, open to attack, and put a burden on the Occupation army, which has to try to protect them. Every once in a while, the Israeli government dismantles such squatter-settlements, and Gantz is in the process of doing so right now with regard to Evyatar, thrown together on land that belongs to owners in the Palestinian villages of Beta, Kablan and Yitma. Netanyahu remonstrated with Gantz and doesn’t want him to act against the squatters.
It isn’t just Gantz. The Change coalition as a whole is only united by hatred of or fatigue with Netanyahu. It is the strangest of strange bedfellows, with two center-left parties (Meretz and Labor), the centrist Yesh Atid, and far right parties like Yisrael Beitenu of Avigdor Lieberman and the Yamina Party (much to Netanyahu’s right) of Naftali Bennett, the incoming prime minister. It for the first time includes a Palestinian-Israeli party, the Muslim fundamentalist United Arab List of former dentist Mansour Abbas.
Maghribi points out that Abbas’s participation in the new government will face two immediate challenges. On Tuesday, Netanyahu secured cabinet permission for militant Jewish squatters eyeing Palestinian homes as their own to march through Palestinian neighborhoods provocatively, waving Israeli flags and taunting residents about the Israeli conquest of 1967, which has left 5 million Palestinians stateless and under Israeli military rule. Abbas and the other three members of parliament may be tested if the march raises substantial tensions. On Wednesday, a law expires and will have to be renewed by parliament that forbids Palestinian-Israelis who marry spouses in the West Bank or Gaza from bringing their spouse to live with them in Israel. The law is discriminatory, since Jewish Israelis can bring Jewish spouses to live in Israel from anywhere in the world. It seems unlikely to me, however that either of these developments will affect the United Arab List’s participation in the new government.
They will still have Netanyahu to hate. He is calling for a vote next month of the Likud Party on party leader, convinced he can win it despite the fall of his government. In parliamentary systems it is common for a former prime minister to be unseated as party head under such circumstances.