Benny Gantz hints at compromise on unity government

March 3 consensus date for election

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, Yisrael Beteynu chairman Avigdor Liberman and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (photo credit: REUTERS)
Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, Yisrael Beteynu chairman Avigdor Liberman and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Blue and White Party leader Benny Gantz kept hope alive that a government could be formed by Wednesday midnight’s deadline on Saturday, when Channel 12 quoted him telling confidants “I will have to make tough decisions over the next few days to avoid elections.”
A March 10 election would be initiated automatically if no Knesset member obtains the support of 61 MKs to form a government by Wednesday night. A consensus was reached among the parties over the weekend that if no breakthrough is reached, they would pass a law to advance the election to March 3 because March 10 is Purim.
“He will not give up until the last moment in trying to build a broad liberal unity government and avoid unnecessary and costly third elections,” a source close to Gantz said.
Gantz was also quoted over the weekend saying that if an election is initiated, Blue and White would no longer promise a rotation in the Prime Minister’s Office between Gantz and his No. 2 in the party, MK Yair Lapid. A source in Blue and White said the leak of Gantz saying that could lead to Gantz standing up to Lapid on joining the coalition as well.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released a statement on Saturday night saying that he had come a long way and had made a serious effort to bring about a unity government and avoid a third election in under a year.
“It is still not too late,” he said.
Netanyahu reiterated what he told reporters in Lisbon on Thursday that his backup plan is to hold a direct election between him and Gantz for prime minister instead of electing a new Knesset.
In a briefing for reporters in Lisbon, Netanyahu said in his own words for the first time that he would limit himself to six months in office, followed by a year and a half of Blue and White leader Benny Gantz as prime minister, and then Netanyahu would serve the remaining year and a half of the term.
“The prime minister stands by the offer of the Likud’s negotiating team to concede on him serving the first two years consecutively as is normal in a rotation,” the Likud said in an official statement. “This is intended to avoid unnecessary elections and bring about a wide unity government.”
A Blue and White official said in response that Netanyahu has still not made the offer publicly. In a statement posted on Facebook before Shabbat, Gantz falsely accused Netanyahu of telling reporters on his trip to Lisbon that he is seeking to serve as prime minister for two years.
“While I am leaving no stone unturned to bring about a unity government, Netanyahu is turning every stone back to advance elections,” Gantz wrote on his Facebook page. “Elections are not good for the people of Israel. But if Netanyahu drags us to elections, I will work hard and struggle with all my might for the state, its future, its character and its unity together with my colleagues in Blue and White.”
Gantz said Netanyahu did not win the April or September elections and would not win the third election that would be initiated automatically if an MK does not obtain the support of a majority of the Knesset by Wednesday.
“After the upcoming election, the Netanyahu era will end and sanity will return, because that is what is correct for Israel,” Gantz wrote.
Labor-Gesher MK Omer Bar-Lev announced on Saturday that he is attempting to get 61 signatures of members of the Knesset to get Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein to form the next government.
Speaking at a Shabbat cultural event in Tel Aviv, Bar-Lev said that he is pushing for Edelstein because he is the Knesset speaker, regardless of “the internal struggles of the Likud.”
Bar-Lev said it is time to set aside ego and consider the option that seems to him the only way to avoid a third election.
The Labor-Gesher party released a statement soon after, saying that despite their support for Bar-Lev, they have nothing to do with his campaign and continue to promote Blue and White leader Gantz as the only candidate they support to form the next government.
“We respect MK Omer Bar-Lev very much, but this is a private idea of his,” the Labor-Gesher party said in a statement. “The Labor party stands by its commitment to sign a petition for MK Benny Gantz alone.”
Edelstein has repeatedly attempted to mend the gap between the Blue and White and Likud parties in order to form a government before the mandate expires. He summoned their negotiating teams in late November in an effort to end the stalemate.
Responding to the initiative of Bar-Lev, Edelstein said that “the only way to prevent the elections is through a unity government with a rotation between Netanyahu and Gantz.”
Tamar Beeri contributed to this report