Gantz agrees to join Netanyahu in unity government — what does it mean?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, left, take part in a ceremony formally promoting Maj. Gen. Benny Gantz, center, to lieutenant general and making him the 20th chief of the general staff of the Israel Defense Forces Feb. 14, 2011, at the prime minister’s office in Jerusalem. U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Adm. Mike Mullen was among the guests in attendance. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Teddy Wade/Released)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu couldn’t have scripted a better ending to Israel’s year-long election saga. Benny Gantz, the head of the rival Blue and White coalition, was going to have the opportunity to form a new government, then he suddenly reversed himself and agreed to a unity government with Netanyahu. 

Why did Gantz cave in —  especially at that moment? Some have suggested it was Gantz’s way of getting out of the race, as he had been playing the electoral game for well over a year and was simply exhausted. He competed half-heartedly from the start, and it was clear that he did not have the same energy and drive for the game of electoral politics as Netanyahu. This was the most difficult election cycle in Israeli history, and it was more than Gantz signed up for. He didn’t have the extra motivation Netanyahu does of using the prime minister’s position to avoid a criminal trial and, very likely, a prison sentence. Read more at Responsible Statecraft

How racism is fueling Israel’s political paralysis

“Hating Arabs Isn’t revenge–it’s values.” Hashtag reads Israel Demands Revenge!”

For a moment, it seemed there was a light at the end of Israel’s political tunnel. Although Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party won fewer Knesset seats in the March 3 election than Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, sheer hatred of Netanyahu drove his former ally, the right-wing Avigdor Liberman, toward Gantz’s camp and what seemed like a narrow majority of support for a new government.

The idea was that Blue and White, with 33 seats, would create a coalition with the Labor-Gesher-Meretz center-left bloc (seven seats) and Liberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party (seven seats) and get support “from the outside”— the Joint List, the mostly Palestinian bloc of parties which won a remarkable 15 seats. With Netanyahu’s coalition yielding only 58 seats, all Gantz would need is one more than that to form a government, under Israel’s parliamentary rules. It would be a highly unstable government, but it would at least avert yet another election on top of the three Israel has held in the last year. And it would augur Netanyahu’s long-awaited departure from the Prime Minister’s Office. Read more at Responsible Statecraft

The Time is Ripe for Renewed Diplomacy with Iran, but Hawks are Still Clamoring for War

The Time is Ripe for Renewed Diplomacy with Iran, but Hawks are Still Clamoring for War

The ugly fallout from U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to assassinate Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force leader, Qassem Soleimani seems to have halted for the moment. But the forces that pushed the United States and Iran to the brink of all-out war this week are still in place. This isn’t an end, just a short break between acts. But the pullback from the brink of war can also present some opportunities.

Iran opened the door to de-escalation and Trump took it, seemingly prioritizing his base’s concern of another U.S. war in the Middle East over the bluster and bad advice of his secretary of state, among other pro-war advisers.

But this relief must be tempered with caution. We may have taken a step or two back from the brink of war, but we’re still perilously close to the edge. The Iran war hawks, neoconservative ideologues, and pro-Likud activists are not going to stop pressing for provocative measures against Iran. Whether they are in the Trump administration or not, the forces that have been pressing for war with Iran must be confronted now, more than ever. We also need to consider the role of local actors and how that might affect both American and Iranian strategy. Read more at Responsible Statecraft

Bolton’s Firing Undermines Netanyahu In Several Ways

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had a very disappointing day on Tuesday. Struggling in the polls a week before the rerun of April’s Israeli national

elections, the embattled prime minister was desperate for something to swing a chunk of voters in his direction, or at least in the direction of some of the right wing parties supporting him.

To that end, Netanyahu scheduled a press conference to announce some big development, and as the hour of his appearance neared, the word was that it was going to be that the Trump administration had agreed to Netanyahu’s plan to annex major pieces of the West Bank. Netanyahu appeared and quickly said that if he won the election, he would immediately annex the Jordan Valley, which constitutes around 30% of the West Bank (excluding Jerusalem) and about 60% of Area C, the part of the West Bank that was left under full Israeli control in the Oslo Accords (see adjacent map). He further implied that more annexation would follow, as a result of negotiations with the United States (not the Palestinians, of course) that would be held in the framework of Donald Trump’s fabled “Deal of the Century.” Read more at LobeLog

Nine Thoughts On The Latest Gaza Flare-Up

Now that the latest flare-up of fighting between Israel and Gaza has subsided, at least for the moment, here are nine thoughts on the clash, the outcomes, and the implications.

  1. Although the timing is suspicious, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu probably did not launch an operation in Gaza to forestall a developing accommodation with Hamas. The Israeli incursion that sparked the latest conflagration in Gaza was of a kind that Israel carries out on a routine basis. It was, from all appearances, a routine intelligence operation gone awry. Gaza has been a steady source of political losses for Netanyahu, this time as well. His willingness to consent to Qatari cash coming into the Strip was unpopular in Israel, as was his quick agreement to a ceasefire. There was no good reason for Netanyahu to have intentionally gone down this path. Read more at LobeLog