Yair Lapid, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Benny Gantz.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST+EMIL SALMAN/POLL+ANDREAS GEBERT/REUTERS)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ended speculation of forming a unity government that would include a rotation for the Prime Minister’s Office with Blue and White leader Benny Gantz on Wednesday morning, decreasing chances of canceling the September 17 election.
Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel and other senior Likud figures openly confirmed that a unity government between Likud and Blue and White was in the works. Forming such a coalition could assist Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein in his attempts to obtain support from the 80 MKs required to repeal the Knesset’s dispersal, preventing the September 17 election.
However, after complaints from Netanyahu’s coalition partners on the Right, he issued two clarifications.
“I respect Knesset Speaker Edelstein’s efforts to avoid another round of elections in Israel, and I will meet with him in the days ahead at his request,” Netanyahu said. “All the rest is spin. At no point was a rotation offered. There has been no contact between Likud and Blue and White at this point, and I do not intend to give up on my natural partners in a right-wing government.”
Gantz firmly rejected overtures from Likud to bring his party into the government and prevent the September 17 election from taking place. He lamented that “Netanyahu pushed the Knesset dispersal button,” and it was now too late to stop the election.
“Netanyahu lost it,” Gantz said. “When he failed to form a government, he led the dispersal of the Knesset and the initiation of an unnecessary and expensive election. If Netanyahu didn’t drag the country to elections, the president would have asked me to form a government. I would have succeeded, and Netanyahu knew it.”
Gantz called Edelstein’s attempt to cancel the election “another spin from Netanyahu’s house of cards,” and said “Netanyahu can’t shift the blame to others or cynically take advantage of the Knesset speaker.”
He added that “Netanyahu didn’t negotiate with us. He preferred a right-wing extremist government with [Union of Right-Wing Parties MK Bezalel] Smotrich.”
Edelstein responded that “there is indeed legal preparation for canceling the dispersal of the Knesset, and it is the will of the public to cancel the do-over election. I would not have initiated this step had I not been sure it was possible. I call on all sides to internalize the importance of this moment and act responsibly. This is not the time to attack each other but to work for the good of the public.”
Blue and White’s No. 2 candidate, Yair Lapid, rejected the idea of Netanyahu and Gantz rotating as prime minister. “There is no problem with a unity government,” Lapid wrote on Twitter. “There is only one man, only one, who has to move aside and go deal with his indictments.”
Lapid called upon the Likud to replace Netanyahu, suggesting MK Gideon Sa’ar, Foreign Minister Israel Katz, and Edelstein himself as possible replacements. “The Likud can appoint whomever they want,” Lapid said. “We would have a unity government of at least 75 MKs that would be stable, functional and fair.”
Sources from Blue and White said they oppose the initiative as they believe its intent is to help Netanyahu obtain immunity from prosecution. They believe that Netanyahu is looking to cancel the election he initiated because his internal polls indicate he will not win enough support to build a coalition, further claiming that the entire effort was intended to shift blame for the unnecessary election toward them.
The effort to cancel the election is supported by Kulanu, United Torah Judaism, Shas, URP leader Rafi Peretz, and Yisrael Beytenu if a unity government of Likud, Blue and White, and Yisrael Beytenu would be formed. The move is opposed by Blue and White, Labor, Meretz, and the two Arab parties.
A Channel 13 poll broadcast on Wednesday night found that 48% of the public supports canceling the election, 35% oppose it, and 17% do not know.
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