30 May 2024

‘Doubtful’ Benny Gantz could overthrow Netanyahu, says former adviser to an Israeli PM

Data Correspondent and Presenter

Israeli war cabinet minister Benny Gantz’s centrist party has proposed a bill to dissolve the Israeli parliament.

But it’s not clear whether his National Unity Party has the support to bring about early elections.

Gantz joined Benjamin Netanyahu’s government shortly after the Hamas-led attack on Oct the 7th and has since criticised Israel’s prime minister for not having a long-term plan for Gaza.

We spoke to former diplomat Alon Pinkas, who has been chief of staff and a foreign policy adviser to one Israeli prime minister and four foreign ministers.

Ciaran Jenkins: Benny Gantz is Benjamin Netanyahu’s main rival, isn’t he? Will he be able to bring down Netanyahu’s government?

Alon Pinkas: That’s doubtful. Let’s do the arithmetic first. Mr Netanyahu’s government has a majority of 64 members of parliament out of 120. Mr Gantz represents eight, which means the Netanyahu coalition at this point is 72. So if Mr Gantz, pursuant to his law to dissolve parliament, withdraws from the government, then 72 minus eight, we’re back to 64. That leads us to something, excuse me for explaining a complex concept.

This leads to two different scenarios. One is trying to get five members of the coalition to defect and bring down the government and precipitate an early election. But there is another course, it’s called a constructive motion of no confidence. If 61 members of parliament, a majority of one, present not only a motion of no confidence, but an agreed upon consensual candidate to be the prime minister, then an election is avoided. So the question is, can five defectors from the coalition be found and crown Mr Gantz or someone else? I doubt that will happen.

Ciaran Jenkins: You doubt it, but it’s interesting that Benny Gantz has made this move at this time, isn’t it? Because for the first time in a year, Benjamin Netanyahu has polled higher than his main rival. And the trend has been downwards, hasn’t it, for Gantz and upwards for Netanyahu. So why are Israelis rallying around Benjamin Netanyahu?

Alon Pinkas: They’re not. It’s one poll in which there was one question about suitability to become prime minister, in which Netanyahu overtook Mr Gantz, who is seen as somewhat weak and feeble and lacks a clear and coherent message. But in other polls, or in different questions in that poll that you quoted from, over 70% think that Mr Netanyahu should resign, 59% think that an election should be held. Over 60% see him responsible and accountable for the October 7th debacle and ensuing mismanagement of the war.

Ciaran Jenkins: He keeps surviving, Benjamin Netanyahu, even though two members of this three-man war cabinet are openly dissenting to his war strategy. That’s a pretty big rift.

Alon Pinkas: It is, but their dissent is confined to the rhetorical rather than the practical. They haven’t done anything. They have been threatening to leave the government for the better part of the last four months. They joined, indeed, four days after October 7th, on October 11th they formed a war cabinet, and they have been threatening to leave ever since. But every time they found some excuse. ‘We’re responsible, we’re the adult in the room, if it wasn’t for us the extreme right-wing will get its way. We prevented and pre-empted very callous and reckless decisions to be made.’

Ciaran Jenkins: A lot of the disagreement you describe is about what happens after the war, the plan for the day after. So how long can Benjamin Netanyahu go on avoiding that question, do you think?

Alon Pinkas: Not for long. Because, aside from the fact that he should have resigned on October 7th and every day in the 236 days since, his biggest mistake, his biggest faux pas, was not only not to come up with a post-war Gaza plan, but to deride and reject any American plan that was put on the table. Part of which was endorsed by the British government.