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Is Israel (finally) about to have a unity government? Will it work? Will Netanyahu really step down after 18 months? How will this affect the peace process? CNBC asked me these questions. Here’s what I told them.

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(Jerusalem, Israel) — The deal is not yet done. Negotiations are in on-going, but there are lots of thorny issues on which the two leaders will have to compromise. That said, it does look like a 36-month unity government will come together in the coming days.

Over the weekend, a CNBC reporter here in the region asked me four questions:

  1. Will this unity government between Netanyahu and Gantz work?
  2. Will Netanyahu really step down and give Gantz the PM seat after 18 months?
  3. Netanyahu is seemingly the politician with nine lives — is this approaching the end of the road for him?
  4. How do you see both Gantz and Netanyahu navigating the peace process with such differing views?

The article ran today, I’m accurately quoted, and you can read it by clicking here.

For those of you who are interested in more detail, I’ll post in full the answers that I sent to the reporter. Hope you find the analysis helpful.

CNBC-logo

  • The coronavirus pandemic appears to be accomplishing something that three elections couldn’t – it’s forcing Israel’s deeply-divided leaders to put the health and safety of the nation ahead of their own political fortunes.
  • Yes, there is a very good chance that this broad-based, emergency unity government will work, for several reasons.
  • First, the enormity of the threat of the coronavirus outbreak to Israel, a nation of only nine million people – a significant percentage of whom are elderly and thus particularly vulnerable – should keep the new government focused on dealing this all-important mission and not get side-tracked on petty issues, at least until the crisis has passed.
  • Second, the Israeli people are overwhelming in favor of a unity government and have been calling for one through the past three rounds of elections. In fact, a new poll by Israel’s Channel 12 found that the proposed new unity government is supported by 61% of Israelis. Only 30% are opposed. Nine percent expressed no opinion. What’s more, 56% of the voters of Gantz’s party — Blue & White – support Gantz’s move into a unity government, while 39% are opposed to it.
  • Third, Netanyahu knows he needs this new government to work, not unravel. Under indictment in three separate corruption cases, Bibi is determined to stay in power as Prime Minister for the next 18 months, at least, because it will help him deal with the trials from a position of optimum political strength.
  • Fourth, Gantz knows that he needs this new government to work just as much as Netanyahu. Several of his closes political partners are furious at him for making a deal with Bibi. Nearly 40% of his voters are opposed to this move. As a result, the Blue & White party that Gantz had created has blown up in recent days. There is no clear political base or coalition for Gantz to return right now, if this unity government falters.
  • Whether Netanyahu will really step down as Prime Minister in 18 months to allow Gantz to become the premier is the big unknown. No one knows the answer to that, and all Israelis will be watching carefully to see if Gantz is emerging as the nation’s next leader, or will go down in history as a sucker.
  • That said, it’s increasingly possible that we are seeing the dawn of the post-Bibi era. Whether that’s a good or bad development for the country remains to be seen.
  • For all the political rhetoric of the campaigns, Netanyahu and Gantz do not have strikingly different foreign policy principles or objectives. While Netanyahu would have liked to have annexed portions of Judea and Samaria as Israeli territory to please his right-wing supporters, this is very unlikely with Gantz in the government. Gantz is open to annexing at some point. But he is looking at the bigger picture, knowing that the prospect of forging historic peace treaties with the Gulf Arab states is increasingly possible, unless Israel moves rashly with annexation of the territories. I suspect that Gantz and Netanyahu will be able to come to an agreement that securing one or more of these peace treaties in the next few years is the bigger prize and should be the higher objective.

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