Having learned its lesson in the last two elections, Kachol Lavan made sure to control the media agenda this time around. In fact, the MKs of Kachol Lavan showed that despite their relative inexperience in parliamentary maneuvering, they’re still capable of potentially beating a battle-scarred political veteran like Netanyahu by gaining the approval necessary for the Knesset to form the committee that will address Netanyahu’s request for immunity before the election. The committee’s sessions are also scheduled to be held every day from now until then, ensuring that the media will be filled with constant new revelations. The idea is that there will be only one topic in the headlines: the indictments against Netanyahu, and his attempt to avoid having to stand trial for them.
This Tuesday, the full Knesset is expected to convene—unusual for the lead-up to an election—to approve the aforementioned committee. But Kachol Lavan’s success might yet blow up in its face. What happened next was that Minister Betzalel Smotrich said that if the Knesset was already being convened, why not deal with other important issues, such as the annexation of the Jordan Valley? Netanyahu, who had expressed his desire to do so in the past, jumped on the suggestion and gave his approval. This caused Kachol Lavan Chairman Benny Gantz to announce that he too was in favor of annexation: “The Jordan Valley is the eastern defensive barrier of Israel in any future conflict. Right after the election, we will work to extend Israeli sovereignty to the Jordan Valley. We will do so as part of a nationally agreed upon course of action, and in concert with the international community.”
Soon after that announcement, Gantz started catching flak from all directions. MK Ahmed Tibi of the Joint Arab List said, “The annexation games of Gantz and his musketeers of Kachol Lavan are dangerous. The average citizen will ask, ‘If he’s just a copy of Bibi, why not go with the original?’” The right-wing politicians—all of whom support the annexation of the Jordan Valley—scoffed at the idea of international agreement.
Netanyahu went a step further and asked, “Why wait until after the election if we can extend sovereignty now?” That prompted Gantz to reply, “Let’s first deal with the immunity, and then we’ll move on to sovereignty.”
This whole episode has gotten Gantz in trouble with his own party. Kachol Lavan is a federation consisting of three parties: the right wing, Telem, under the leadership of former Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon; the center, Chosen L’Yisrael, under the leadership of Benny Gantz; and the left wing, Yesh Atid, under the leadership of Yair Lapid. In the past, the three parties had been able to bridge the ideological gaps between them by focusing on their overarching goal: getting rid of Netanyahu. When the issue of the Jordan Valley came up, there were some people on the right who wanted to take up Netanyahu’s challenge and begin the process now. However, there were people on the left who wanted to avoid any proclamations on the subject, and even said that Israel should unilaterally disengage from the area.
The bottom line is that Netanyahu managed to once again beat Gantz at his own game by deflecting the media’s focus on his immunity and shifting it to something else.