Gantz rejects unity offer from Netanyahu

Blue and White leader to get mandate on Thursday.

Yair Lapid, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Benny Gantz (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST+EMIL SALMAN/POLL+ANDREAS GEBERT/REUTERS)
Yair Lapid, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Benny Gantz
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Blue and White leader Benny Gantz on Thursday and offered him a new framework on matters of religion and state and other issues that could help bring about the formation of a national-unity government.
Netanyahu said there should be a wide unity government including Blue and White and parties that are the Likud’s right-wing and religious allies. As part of the new framework, United Torah Judaism and Shas would officially agree to sit with their nemesis, Blue and White’s No. 2, Yair Lapid.
But Blue and White leader Benny Gantz rejected Netanyahu’s invitation and declined to meet with him to discuss it.
“I got an offer that I can’t not refuse,” Gantz tweeted. “We will wait until we receive the mandate from the president, and then we will start serious negotiations to form a liberal unity government that will bring about change and restore hope to the citizens of Israel.”
An official statement by Blue and White said “Netanyahu’s recent behavior unfortunately indicates that what he is seeking is not unity but immunity.”
The party welcomed Netanyahu’s efforts to move forward on matters of religion and state, but said other parts of the plan were unacceptable.
“He remains unprepared to acknowledge that the majority of Israeli citizens elected a liberal unity government, without extremists,” Blue and White said. “It is for this reason that Blue and White is the largest Knesset faction. Not unintentionally, the proposal brought by the outgoing prime minister fails to address the most important issue: maintaining moral integrity and rule of law. In recent weeks, Netanyahu has continued to oppose and to demonstrate disrespect toward law enforcement, the press and state agencies.”
Likud responded by accusing Gantz of “giving into dictates from Lapid and [Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor] Liberman” and becoming “a serial refuser preventing a unity government.” Likud said Gantz’s behavior proved that what he is seeking is a minority coalition backed by a safety net from the Joint List.
Barring an unexpected last-minute deal, Netanyahu is expected to allow his mandate to form a government to end automatically at midnight Wednesday night. President Reuven Rivlin will hold consultations with party representatives on Thursday and give Gantz 28 days to form a government.
If Gantz fails to build a coalition, there will be 21 days when any MK can obtain the signatures of 61 MKs between November 21 and 11:59 p.m. on December 12.
“This is the only government that can be formed now and it is the government that must be formed now,” Netanyahu said he told Gantz. “All citizens of Israel are looking toward us and seeing a Middle East that is changing before our very eyes. Those who need to know see increasing security challenges that are now waiting for us. That is why I call on Gantz to show responsibility and enter immediate negotiations on the government that Israel so desperately needs.” 
On diplomatic issues, Netanyahu’s plan proposed that he and Gantz react to US President Donald Trump’s plan together and that they also express a joint statement regarding plans for annexing the Jordan Valley. There were also security and socioeconomic proposals as part of the framework.
Netanyahu’s plan called for maintaining the status quo on matters of religion and state and advancing a compromise on drafting yeshiva students promoted by former Shas minister Ariel Attias, which would grant the factions in the coalition the freedom to vote their conscience. A senior source in United Torah Judaism confirmed the content of Netanyahu’s proposals, emphasizing that he had committed to getting the compromise Attias promoted for the ultra-Orthodox enlistment bill passed into law.
The compromise would see the enlistment targets delineated in the bill advanced by Yisrael Beytenu removed, and the legislation would empower the government to determine the targets.
Liberman opposes this proposal, arguing that the government could stipulate low enlistment targets for political expediency.
UTJ issued a formal statement saying that “we authorized the prime minister to conduct coalition negotiations on our behalf for the possible establishment of a unity government with other parties. When a concrete draft coalition agreement is presented to us we will deliberate it and decide.”
Earlier this week, Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Shalom seemingly broke a hole in the ultra-Orthodox picket line against Lapid, and made the rather munificent offer of a place in the afterlife for both Lapid and Liberman if they would join a unity government with the ultra-Orthodox parties.
Cohen’s comments ostensibly paved the way for a national unity government along the lines that have been proposed by Netanyahu, which was previously thought to be impossible in part due to Shas and UTJ’s proscription of their bête noire, Lapid.
Channel 12 reported on Thursday night that Netanyahu told allies on the Right that if Gantz forms a minority coalition and becomes prime minister, he will not quit politics and will become opposition leader.
Netanyahu faced a challenge on Thursday night from Likud MK Gideon Sa’ar, who reiterated at a Tel Aviv parlor meeting that while he gave Netanyahu his full backing, he will run in the next Likud leadership race, even if Netanyahu also runs.
“Free competition is the oxygen of a democratic party like Likud, and the days of elections with no challenger in the party are over,” Sa’ar said.