Benny Gantz gives up on forming government, mandate goes to Knesset

Blue and White leader said that he “turned over every stone” in his efforts to form a national unity government.

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz walking to make his speech on November 20 2019   (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI)
Blue and White leader Benny Gantz walking to make his speech on November 20 2019
(photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI)
Israel entered uncharted territory on Wednesday night, beginning an unprecedented three-week period in which any MK can obtain the support of the majority of the Knesset to form a government.
Informing President Reuven Rivlin that he had not succeeded in building a governing coalition, Gantz returned the mandate four hours before the midnight deadline for him to form a government.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent an olive branch to Gantz, inviting him to begin immediate negotiations on a national unity government. But sources close to Gantz said he would not accept the invitation just days ahead of Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit’s decision on whether to indict Netanyahu, which is expected at the beginning of next week.
In his concession speech, Gantz repeatedly criticized Netanyahu, saying that Israel needed leadership motivated by the good of the nation and not someone’s personal interest. He accused Netanyahu of “leading [Israel] down a dangerous path that will have a high, historic price, and you are responsible for it.”
The Blue and White Party leader said that he “turned over every stone” in his efforts to form a national unity government based on “respect, morals and values,” but the Netanyahu-led 55-seat Right-religious bloc stood as an obstacle in his way.
“There was a bloc in the way that cared about the good of one person,” he said, referring to Netanyahu. “It was trying to prevent Israel from having a government led by those who won and want political sanity and stability.”
Gantz accused the bloc of behaving undemocratically, “to prevent the citizens of Israel for more than a year from having a government led by the party that won a clear majority. No one has the right to deny the nation its choice. No one has the right to say ‘my personal interest comes before theirs.’
“Most of the nation chose to weaken extremists, and most of the nation chose to go a different way than Netanyahu. I won’t be a partner to forcing an extremist agenda on most of the nation that chose otherwise,” he added.
Netanyahu released a video after the speech in which he said that Gantz himself sought a coalition with the very parties he attacked. He reached out to Gantz in a meeting of the 55 MKs in his bloc of right-wing and religious parties.
“Benny Gantz, it is not too late,” Netanyahu said. “Come sit together and announce still tonight that we are forming a unity government. This is what Israel needs. It is forbidden to drag Israel into additional elections.”
Netanyahu criticized Gantz for supporting what he called a “delusional” idea of building a minority government backed by Arab MKs. He blamed Blue and White No. 2 Yair Lapid for persuading Gantz to adopt the idea.
While Netanyahu appeared to hint that he wants Blue and White to join a coalition without Lapid and his MKs in Yesh Atid, Shas leader Arye Deri called for it openly.
Channel 12 reported that in private conversations, Gantz also criticized Lapid and other MKs in his party.
“I’m not prime minister because of Yoaz [Hendel] and Zvika [Hauser], and because of [Yair] Lapid, there’s no chance for unity,” he said according to the report.
Hendel and Hauser are MKs in the right-wing Telem party in the Blue and White bloc who vocally opposed a minority government supported by the anti-Zionist Joint List. However, there were some in Gantz’s Israel Resilience Party who spoke out against it as well, such as MK Chili Tropper, a close Gantz ally. The blame on Lapid was a reference to his distrust of Netanyahu and resulting refusal to have Blue and White be second in a rotation agreement for the premiership.
It became impossible for Gantz to form a government when Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman ruled out helping to establish a minority government backed by the Joint List. Liberman called the faction of four Arab parties a “fifth column” and said he never intended to cooperate with its MKs.
“We won’t enter a government backed directly or indirectly by the Joint List,” Liberman said.
Liberman also blamed Netanyahu for not giving up his bond with haredi (ultra-Orthodox) parties, whom he called anti-Zionist, and ruled out joining a narrow right-wing government with Shas and United Torah Judaism.
But he said that he still hoped a third election within a year could be avoided, and gave indications that he still believed a unity government could be formed over the next three weeks when any MK can build a coalition.
“If we are dragged into elections, it will be because of a lack of leadership,” Liberman said.
Liberman said he turned down many enticing offers from Likud and Blue and White, including a rotation in the Prime Minister’s Office.
“I don’t give up my principles for chairs, even the most comfortable padded chair,” he said.
Liberman called for extensive electoral reforms, including direct elections for prime minister and the Australian requirement for every citizen to vote. He said he also wants secular parties to reach a bond on matters of religion and state.
The heads of UTJ responded fiercely to Liberman’s attacks on them at a press conference in the Knesset.
“We witnessed a shameful and ugly horror show produced by Liberman that was full of lies, ignorance and hatred worthy of the worst haters of religion and Jewish tradition of all time,” UTJ head Ya’acov Litzman said.
Litzman said Liberman has begun his next Knesset campaign, which he said was “more antisemitic than there has been since the founding of the state.”
Fellow UTJ head Moshe Gafni said that Liberman must be forced to leave politics and was “more antisemitic than [Joint List faction head Ahmad] Tibi.” Gafni, who heads the Knesset Finance Committee, said Liberman was leading Israel to a massive debt by causing another election.
Both Litzman and Gafni noted that Liberman’s attacks on the haredim are a recent election ploy, noting that in municipal races a year ago, UTJ and Yisrael Beytenu cooperated closely in many cities, including Jerusalem, where they both backed winning candidate Moshe Lion.
UTJ MK Meir Porush compared Liberman to perpetrators of pogroms in Russia, who he noted attacked Jews under the slogan “Strike at the Jews and save Russia!”