Joint List endorses Gantz without Balad, giving Netanyahu majority

Blue and White decides to forego first shot to form government

President Reuven Rivlin with heads of the Joint Arab List (photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)
President Reuven Rivlin with heads of the Joint Arab List
(photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)
President Reuven Rivlin began his consultations toward forming a new government on Sunday, amid a historic move by most of the Joint List to recommend a candidate for prime minister and a controversial decision by Blue and White to not seek the first chance at building a coalition.
Blue and White had decided on Thursday that the party preferred to get the mandate from Rivlin first, but politicians and strategists in the party changed their minds after realizing that neither Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, nor Blue and White leader Benny Gantz would succeed in forming a government if given the first shot. Hints from Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit’s office that the pace of Netanyahu’s criminal cases would be picked up also influenced the decision.
Rivlin told representatives of Likud and Blue and White that he would demand the formation of a unity government of both parties, but he did not indicate which party would go first. The earliest he could present his mandate is Wednesday evening, after the results of the September 17 election become official.
It became clear following the first day of consultations that barring a change in the final results of the race, Netanyahu would have the recommendation of 55 MKs from Likud, Shas, United Torah Judaism and Yamina. Gantz’s 54 recommendations are from Blue and White, Labor-Gesher, the Democratic Union and most of the Joint List.
While the Joint List made history on Sunday evening when its leader, Ayman Odeh, recommended Gantz for prime minister in its meeting with Rivlin, Blue and White officials downplayed the endorsement, because Balad’s three MKs did not endorse anyone, leaving Netanyahu with a majority of recommendations. Yisrael Beytenu did not recommend anyone.
“We are looking for the way to prevent Netanyahu from being prime minister, and that is what most of the public wants,” Odeh told Rivlin. “Therefore, our recommendation is for Gantz to form the next government.”
When asked by Rivlin if their decision to recommend Gantz is conditional on demands, Odeh said all 13 Joint List MKs were obligated by it and that “We are recommending him, period.”
Joint List faction head Ahmad Tibi told Rivlin that Gantz is “not our cup of tea,” adding about Netanyahu that “our voters wanted this historic moment after a leader systematically incited against us as if we are an enemy.” Speaking in English, Tibi said the decision was also for diplomatic reasons.
“Our choice is a slap in the face to [US President Donald] Trump and his ultimate deal,” Tibi said. “Mr. Trump, keep your deal. The Palestinians deserve a state of their own. Do you understand this?”
Before the Joint List met with Rivlin, Balad members attempted to make the case for recommending no one, based on Gantz’s military background and ideology, saying his views are not different from those of the Likud.
“Gantz is planning on forming a government with Liberman and Likud,” Balad said. “A recommendation for him is a recommendation for a unity government, which is even worse that a right-wing one.”
Balad officials said Blue and White have repeatedly ignored the Joint List’s demands and have consistently refused to discuss them or commit to them publicly and officially.
“Any one of these reasons is enough to not recommend him, especially when all of them are combined,” Balad officials said.
Arab parties have not recommended a candidate for prime minister since Yitzhak Rabin in 1992, and they have never joined a coalition. Tibi told Rivlin the Joint List would remain in the opposition.
The head of the Blue and White delegation, MK Moshe Ya’alon, said “all Zionist parties” would be welcome in the coalition – a statement interpreted as excluding the Joint List.
Rivlin told Blue and White MKs that the people of Israel were “disgusted” by prospects of a third election. When the Blue and White MKs said they want a unity government but have been ruling out Netanyahu because of his pending criminal charges, Rivlin reminded them that Netanyahu has not been indicted.
“The people of Israel want a government that will be stable,” Rivlin said. “A stable government cannot be a government without both of the two largest parties.”
Lahav Harkov and Greer Fay Cashman contributed to this report