Netanyahu, Gantz start bickering over emergency government

PM rules out "terror supporters" in coalition.

 (photo credit: FLASH90)
(photo credit: FLASH90)
An emergency unity government is needed to deal with the coronavirus crisis, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday.
The first conversation between Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz started off on the wrong foot late Thursday night, hours after Netanyahu said an emergency unity government was needed to deal with the coronavirus crisis.
A statement by Blue and White said Gantz offered to have his party's negotiating team meet with the Likud's immediately but Netanyahu did not respond. The Likud's statement said Netanyahu offered to meet with Gantz personally, but he did not respond.
The also disagreed about what parties should be in such a government. Gantz said all eight parties that will be in the next Knesset that will be sworn in on Monday. Netanyahu ruled out the Joint List of Arab parties.
"Terror supporters cannot be part of the government, not in normal times or in an emergency," Netanyahu told Gantz, according to the Likud.
At a press conference in Jerusalem, he called for “putting politics aside” and “focusing only on the health and the lives of the citizens of Israel.”
Such a government could save thousands of lives and therefore must be formed immediately, Netanyahu said. After the press conference, he invited Blue and White leader Benny Gantz to meet with him as early as Thursday night.
Gantz accepted Netanyahu’s request to speak about a unity government. But he conditioned it on all eight factions in the Knesset joining a wide coalition, including the Joint List of Arab parties. The Joint List is expected to reject the offer to join the government under Netanyahu.
President Reuven Rivlin offered to facilitate meetings of Netanyahu and Gantz. He volunteered to help them bring about a consensus as soon as possible.
Earlier Thursday, Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett, Shas head Arye Deri and Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman called for a national unity government.
“Unite now, fight later,” Bennett said at a Tel Aviv press conference. He proposed passing a bill to freeze the current political situation for six months.
Liberman suggested a government of only Likud and Blue and White to deal with the coronavirus crisis in an interview with Russian-language Channel 9 on Thursday.
Other factions should support the government from outside the coalition at first and take no posts, he said.
Likud and Blue and White will have 69 seats in the new Knesset that will be sworn in on Monday.
Deri called upon Netanyahu and Gantz to overcome their differences and form a “national emergency government” under Netanyahu.
Deri and Bennett will make that recommendation to Rivlin on Sunday when representatives of the eight parties in the new Knesset meet with him. But Liberman’s recommendation remained unclear.
“There is no other way of dealing with this challenge other than a large emergency government with a wide national consensus, and we must do that because there unfortunately is no other government,” Deri told Army Radio. “Otherwise, it is going to another election, which would be crazy in our situation.”
Netanyahu frequently seeks the political advice of Deri, who is one of the most experienced politicians in Israel. The Shas leader was the first politician Netanyahu met with after the March 2 election.
Deri criticized Gantz for continuing to seek a minority government, for seeking to unseat Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein and for Blue and White’s bill that would make it illegal for an indicted MK to form a government and serve as prime minister.
This is not the time to play games, he said.
Labor leader Amir Peretz refused to answer questions on Thursday about a unity government led by Netanyahu. He avoided the questions by instead ruling out backing a right-wing government.
“I am continuing to invest all my efforts to form a government of change and hope led by Benny Gantz,” Peretz said. “I said before the election that I would support a minority government backed by the Joint List, and I have no intention of supporting a narrow, right-wing government headed by Netanyahu.”
Gesher leader Orly Levy-Abecassis did not attend Thursday’s Labor-Gesher-Meretz faction meeting, though she was invited. Sources in Labor-Meretz said they were sure she had made a deal to serve in a government under Netanyahu.
Levy-Abecassis requested her own meeting with Rivlin on Sunday. His office said he would consider the request.
Earlier, in a meeting of Labor’s executive committee, eight of 15 committee members called on Peretz not to recommend any candidate to Rivlin and leave all options open, including negotiating with Likud. But Peretz rejected the committee’s recommendation.
The four parties that make up the Joint List will convene their institutions over the weekend to determine whether they will all recommend to Rivlin that Gantz form the government. The Hadash Party of Joint List leader Ayman Odeh was set to meet Thursday night, while other parties will meet on Saturday.
In what could be a setback for Gantz, MK Said al-Harumi said without a commitment to end demolitions of illegally built homes, his United Arab List Party, which is part of the Joint List, cannot recommend Gantz to Rivlin.