The chances of Blue and White Party leader Benny Gantz forming a unity government with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are slim, but Gantz is also unlikely to establish a minority government supported by the Joint List even though his bloc has not ruled it out, sources in the faction said on Sunday.
Talk of an imminent split in Blue and White is overblown, sources on all sides of the divide maintain.
Blue and White has instructed its MKs not to talk to the media, so sources who spoke to The Jerusalem Post from the three parties in the bloc – Israel Resilience, Yesh Atid and Telem – did so on condition of anonymity.
With three days left until Blue and White leader Benny Gantz’s deadline to form a coalition, neither he nor Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have expressed a willingness to compromise for the sake of achieving a unity government. The unresolved issues include who would be first in a rotation for prime minister, and Netanyahu’s insistence on keeping the 55-seat right-wing bloc intact.
A minority government is one made up of parties that have fewer than 61 seats in the 120-seat Knesset. A new government must be authorized by the Knesset – by a majority of MKs present in the room – meaning 61 MKs are not necessary. Hence a minority government could consist of Blue and White, Labor and the Democratic Union, with the Joint List voting in favor of its formation, and Yisrael Beytenu – a longtime fierce opponent of the Joint List – abstaining.
Blue and White would not necessarily need the Joint List for the minority government to survive that first vote. Since most votes in the Knesset need a simple minority of lawmakers present, this would be challenging but manageable. However, the new government would have to pass a budget by the end of March 2020. Since this requires a 61-vote majority, it would be nearly impossible for a minority government to pass the budget.
Arab parties have not supported a government since the early 1990s, when they helped prime minister Yitzhak Rabin usher through the Oslo Accords. The Right generally opposes having the Joint List support a minority government because its MKs are anti-Zionist, regularly accuse the IDF and Israel’s leaders of war crimes, and in some cases, have ties to Palestinian terrorist organizations.
Telem, the right-wing party in Blue and White led by former defense minister MK Moshe Ya’alon, backed down from its previous position that a minority government should only be used as leverage in coalition talks but not seriously be considered. MKs Yoaz Hendel and Zvi Hauser, the most right-wing in the party, opposed even that.
Telem now says it will vote in favor of a minority government together with the Joint List as long as Yisrael Beytenu does the same, to balance them out.
“I think Liberman is playing with us,” a Telem source said. “I don’t see him agreeing to sit in such a government. We have to separate the spin from reality.”
The minority government scenario is just “psychological warfare” in coalition talks, the source added.
Another source close to Hendel and Hauser said that they are doing everything to prevent a minority government, and are relying on Liberman’s concern for maintaining his right-wing image and base to not betray their own right-wing beliefs. The duo may consider leaving Blue and White if there is a minority government based on the Joint List, but that would be a worst-case scenario, and they are continuing to push for a unity government.
Israel Resilience is divided when it comes to a minority government, and a source in the party said it probably wouldn’t end up with one, regardless of Telem.
Some in the party have offered a compromise in which Balad, the most radical party in the Joint List, would abstain from the vote, thus making it more palatable for Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman to be in a government supported by the mostly Arab bloc.
A Resilience source denied that anything changed politically last week, after Israel killed a senior Palestinian Islamic Jihad commander, and Joint List MKs protested against the IDF saying Gantz is an accessory to murder.
Yesh Atid is the strongest backer of a minority government, but a party source said it would be a mistake to say its MKs are enthusiastic about the option.
“The options are still there,” the source said. “Who knows what Liberman will decide. A minority government is only possible with him, and a unity government depends on what Netanyahu or Likud decide.”
As for the chance of a split in the party – because Gantz is more willing to compromise to allow Netanyahu to be prime minister first and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid won’t hear of it – the source said the reports are far-fetched, and that the two are very close.
Blue and White showed no indication of moving toward a unity government, either.
Lapid tweeted on Sunday that “if, instead of all these horror shows and incitement to racism, Bibi would agree to come [to negotiations] without the bloc and be second in a rotation, there would already be an excellent unity government.”
A Telem source said that Netanyahu has been “escalating” his rhetoric, making a unity government more difficult.
“He seems to have not accepted that he will have to take leave of office” to handle his legal woes, the source said. “He’s just trying to avoid it. That’s what it feels like. I don’t see something that we can do that will change the situation.”
Still, the Yesh Atid source pointed out that Blue and White was formed at 5:30 a.m. on the day of the deadline to submit party lists.
“These things usually come down to the wire,” he said of Gantz’s impending Wednesday night deadline. “And then the Knesset has another 21 days to find a candidate for prime minister.”