Nov 8, 2019

Netanyahu brings political rival into Cabinet to thwart Gantz

Netanyahu (R) with Bennett in 2016. Photo: Abir Sultan/AFP via Getty Images

In a surprising move, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has appointed Naftali Bennett, leader of a small conservative party, as defense minister.

Why it matters: This move is purely political. Netanyahu was worried Bennett would agree to join a coalition led by Benny Gantz, giving Gantz the majority he'd need to displace Netanyahu and form a government. Gantz has another 10 days to form a government before he loses his mandate.

Bennett’s appointment is surprising because for the last five years he has been one of Netanyahu’s main political rivals and a sharp critic on national security issues, including the situation in Gaza.

  • Bennett was Netanyahu’s chief of staff a decade ago when he was opposition leader, but relations broke down and Bennett began to be treated by Netanyahu as a political arch-enemy.
  • Bennett is a right-wing hardliner, but his appointment will not dramatically change Israeli security policy vis a vis Gaza, Syria, Lebanon or Iran.
  • Bennett will be an interim minister in a transition government that, according to the law, is very limited in its ability to take dramatic decisions.

The bottom line: Netanyahu’s move will make Gantz’s mission to form a government even harder. Gantz’s only possibility now is to try and form a minority government with the support of the Arab Joint List — something he is very reluctant to do.

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Why it matters: This is mostly about domestic political positioning for Netanyahu as he and opposition politician Benny Gantz stare down a Dec. 11 deadline to form a government. Netanyahu gave the impression that Trump was favorably disposed toward both goals and called on Gantz to form a unity government to accomplish them.

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Driving the news: Thursday's announcement from Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, though long-anticipated, was a political earthquake. The indictments for bribery, fraud and breach of trust made Netanyahu the first Israeli prime minister to face criminal charges.

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Netanyahu rival Gantz fails to form a government in Israel

Gantz (L) with President Rivlin. Photo: Amir Levy/Getty Images

Benny Gantz, leader of the centrist Blue and White party, has notified Israeli President Reuven Rivlin that he has failed to form a coalition government ahead of tonight's deadline.

Why it matters: Gantz's failure comes 28 days after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself failed to form a government following September's deadlocked elections. Never before have both leading candidates failed to form a government. Israel could soon be headed for its third elections in less than a year.

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