In an essay published in the latest issue of the New York Review of Books, the Israeli philosopher Assaf Sharon recounts how, following the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and a period of peak sympathy for the country’s center-left leadership, Benjamin Netanyahu managed to stage a remarkable comeback and capture the premiership in 1996.

Professor Sharon attributes the rebound to the Israeli right’s (and Netanyahu’s) strategic deployment of “unity” as a device to deflect negative attention. What should have been a national reckoning about incitement to violence instead turned into a mawkish affair in which “politicization” was condemned and sentimental hooey was encouraged. Most remarkable of all was that the center-left leadership mostly went along with it.

The Likud was helped, of course, by Hamas terrorism and Shimon Peres’s terribly miscalculated Operation Grapes of Wrath in Lebanon, which alienated Arab voters who could’ve made a decisive difference in a razor-close prime ministerial election. These were undoubtedly great burdens for Peres and the Labor Party, but they were made much worse by effectively obviating Netanyahu and Likud of their role in creating a toxic political environment. To point this out was tantamount to threatening a newfound national unity (at least among the Jewish population).

Israel is not confronted with a similar situation today, but Netanyahu has whipped out the old unity playbook to try to intimidate Benny Gantz, leader of Kachol Lavan, into accepting the rawest of deals: a unity government with Netanyahu as prime minister, and a vague commitment to “incapacitate” himself in the event of a formal indictment (but he would still retain the title of prime minister).

Gantz, who appears at least slightly committed to what he promised voters in two consecutive election campaigns, has rejected Netanyahu remaining prime minister through an indictment on principle. Most Israelis appear to agree with him. Netanyahu, in his response to his failure to form a coalition following the September election, has blamed Gantz for “simply refus[ing]” to “form a broad national unity government.”

This is far from the truth. Gantz campaigned on a unity government when Netanyahu rejected it outright. Unlike Netanyahu, Gantz is negotiating on his own; it is remarkable that Netanyahu has managed to convince or bully UTJ, Shas, and Yamina to surrender their rights to negotiate to Likud, and then suggest with a straight face that a government of the right, the religious right, the far-right, and Kachol Lavan is “a broad national unity government.” The attempted sleight of hand is clear: to point out the obvious, that Netanyahu is an unacceptable choice for prime minister, is to damage the prospects of unity and send the country to an unnecessary third election. As always, Netanyahu is the victim.

A unity coalition with Likud remains Gantz’s most realistic option to form a government in the next 28 days, now that he has officially received the mandate from President Reuven Rivlin. His best hope is that Netanyahu is indicted and the notion of making a prime minister “incapacitated” from the start sounds as ridiculous to everyone else as it does to me. This may not happen in the next four weeks, but it looks somewhat more likely in the next six or seven.

Therefore, Gantz’s aim should be to stretch the process out as long as possible while making some forward progress toward forming a new government – a genuine and balanced unity coalition led by a dignified and unindicted prime minister. A signed coalition agreement with Labor-Gesher is feasible in the next 28 days, and won’t hurt the chances of forming a unity government later on. This should be finalized and announced on the last day of his mandate, after which the Knesset will have 21 days to form a government on its own.

But most important of all, Gantz must not concede to Netanyahu’s demand that he negotiate with the entire right bloc, an issue on which Kachol Lavan has Avigdor Liberman’s full support. Netanyahu’s agreement to remain incapacitated while holding the title of prime minister, frankly, gave the game away: he sees the office as personally useful in his upcoming trial, and would prefer a third election (during which he would remain prime minister) to a unity government with someone else at the top, even temporarily. This is exactly the type of solipsism and corruption that Kachol Lavan voters came out in droves to end – a possibility now within reach.

At some point the right bloc, and indeed Likud itself, will have to ask itself whether it wants to run head first into a third election after attaching itself to an indicted prime minister. Gantz, understandably, does not want another election, but that outcome is noble in comparison to ignominiously enabling Netanyahu’s behavior and bolstering his cult of personality. He should continue to resist the seductive appeal of a false unity.