It’s all about Bibi

Will Gantz com­mit to not join­ing a Ne­tanyahu-led coali­tion?

The Jerusalem Post - - COMMENT & FEATURES - • By JEFF BARAK

Back in 1992, a young Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu broke party dis­ci­pline and de­fied prime min­is­ter Yitzhak Shamir to vote in fa­vor of a change in the elec­toral sys­tem: the di­rect elec­tion of the prime min­is­ter. For Ne­tanyahu, it’s al­ways been about him, and he firmly be­lieved di­rect elec­tions for prime min­is­ter would pro­pel him into Bal­four Street and the Prime Min­is­ter’s Res­i­dence.

The idea be­hind this hy­brid sys­tem in which vot­ers had two votes, one for the prime min­is­ter of their choice and one for the party of their choice, was that a di­rectly elected prime min­is­ter would have a di­rect man­date from the peo­ple. Also, so the ar­gu­ment went, this new sys­tem would en­cour­age peo­ple to vote for the party headed by their can­di­date for prime min­is­ter and re­duce the power of smaller par­ties and the cre­ation of un­sta­ble gov­ern­ment coali­tions.

Re­al­ity proved oth­er­wise. Al­though Ne­tanyahu sur­pris­ingly did win the 1996 elec­tions, La­bor (back then it was still a party to be reck­oned with) won the largest per­cent­age of the vote, and Ne­tanyahu was forced to make a coali­tion with smaller, right-wing and re­li­gious par­ties which even­tu­ally brought him down.

In 1999, when Ehud Barak de­feated Ne­tanyahu, Barak’s One Is­rael al­liance of La­bor, Gesher and Meimad, won only 26 seats, and Barak was forced into a coali­tion with six smaller par­ties. Two years later, Ariel Sharon, as head of the Likud, de­ci­sively beat Barak, tak­ing 62% of the vote, but still the Likud won only 21 seats, and Sharon had to form a na­tional unity gov­ern­ment.

As a re­sult, it was de­cided to scrap the di­rect elec­tion of the prime min­is­ter and re­vert to a sin­gle vote for the party of the voter’s choice.

And what a choice the elec­torate will have come April. Un­less smarter heads pre­vail be­tween now and late Fe­bru­ary, when the party lists are sub­mit­ted to the Cen­tral Elec­tions Com­mit­tee, these elec­tions are li­able to see a plethora of par­ties, where the only real dif­fer­ence be­tween them will be the can­di­dates stand­ing at their head.

Can any­body hon­estly ex­plain the dif­fer­ence be­tween the Likud and Ku­lanu, ex­cept for Ku­lanu leader Moshe Kahlon’s per­sonal dis­taste for Ne­tanyahu? Where do La­bor and Hat­nua di­verge, ex­cept in La­bor leader Avi Gab­bay’s para­noia con­cern­ing Tzipi Livni’s de­ter­mi­na­tion to find a can­di­date on the Left who can re­ally chal­lenge the prime min­is­ter? And al­though there are clear ide­o­log­i­cal dif­fer­ences in the Joint List be­tween the Ta’al and Balad par­ties, the only rea­son for the breakup of that al­liance is per­sonal: Ah­mad Tibi’s thwarted am­bi­tion to head the list.

Given that Benny Gantz, head of the new Is­rael Re­silience Party, has so far re­fused to open his mouth, it might be do­ing him an in­jus­tice to de­clare that his party will no doubt spout the same cen­trist, con­sen­sus plat­i­tudes as Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid. But yes, I think we can take a risk here and say there will be lit­tle day­light be­tween the two par­ties’ man­i­festos – should they even bother to pro­duce them.

THE TRUTH is that one’s choice of a party, ex­cept for one cru­cial is­sue, is not that im­por­tant in these elec­tions. Is­rael is not go­ing to the polls over the state of the econ­omy, the peace process (or lack of) with the Pales­tini­ans or mat­ters of re­li­gion and state, in which dif­fer­ent par­ties take a dif­fer­ent stance.

Rather, these elec­tions will de­cide whether vot­ers want to pro­vide Ne­tanyahu with a record fifth term of of­fice and be­come the long­est-serv­ing prime min­is­ter in Is­rael’s his­tory, de­spite the se­ri­ous al­le­ga­tions of bribery and breach of trust swirling around him.

For those who are happy to see as prime min­is­ter a politi­cian who has dele­git­imized the civic rights of a fifth of the coun­try’s cit­i­zens (Ne­tanyahu’s in­fa­mous “the Arabs are vot­ing in droves” video in 2015), they can vote for any of the par­ties on the Right, se­cure in the knowl­edge that these par­ties will join a coali­tion un­der Ne­tanyahu’s lead­er­ship. The same is true for vot­ers un­con­cerned by Ne­tanyahu’s re­peated in­cite­ment against the po­lice and the ju­di­cial sys­tem, or his at­tacks on the me­dia and the “un­pa­tri­otic” Left.

But for those who want change, and a move to a more open and tol­er­ant so­ci­ety, their only hope is for the cre­ation of a po­lit­i­cal bloc on the Cen­ter-Left large enough to pre­vent Ne­tanyahu from re­turn­ing to Bal­four Street. When Gantz fi­nally deigns to share his world­view with the pub­lic, the only is­sue of any im­por­tance will be whether he will com­mit, as Gab­bay, Livni and Lapid have al­ready done, to not sit­ting in a new Ne­tanyahu-led coali­tion.

If he fails to make this com­mit­ment, then a vote for Gantz will be the same as a vote Ne­tanyahu.

The writer is a for­mer ed­i­tor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.

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