Netanyahu: Gantz trying to steal the election

Blue and White begins effort to oust Netanyahu.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures after speaking to supporters following the announcement of exit polls in Israel's election at his Likud party headquarters in Tel Aviv, Israel March 3, 2020 (photo credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures after speaking to supporters following the announcement of exit polls in Israel's election at his Likud party headquarters in Tel Aviv, Israel March 3, 2020
(photo credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Blue and White leader Benny Gantz of trying to steal Monday's election on Wednesday after Gantz began efforts to pass a law that would prevent an indicted MK from forming a government.
Speaking at a meeting of the MKs in his right-wing bloc, Netanyahu said the effort to pass the bill would undermine democracy. The leaders of the parties in his bloc vowed to remain united and insist that only Netanyahu form the next government.
"This is an effort to divide the nation when we are facing serious challenges like the corona crisis," Netanyahu said in the part of the meeting that was open to the press. "There are also opportunities like US President Donald Trump's plan that require us to be united and respect the will of the people."
After the press was asked to leave the room, Netanyahu upgraded his attack on Gantz, saying that he was worse than Iranian Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Hosseini Khamenei.
"In Iran, they disqualify candidates before their elections, but here Gantz is doing it after an election despite the results," Netanyahu said.
Gantz responded by mocking Netanyahu, tweeting: "Someone here celebrated too early."
Such a bill would likely be supported by the 62 MKs who are not in Netanyahu's bloc, pending a decision by Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman, who is convening his faction on Thursday afternoon. The Knesset reconvenes on Monday March 16.
Blue and White MK Moshe Ya'alon, who is a former Likud minister, revealed on Wednesday morning that he had received overtures from the Likud to help unseat Netanyahu.
"Bibi, after an election full of lies that hit a new low, in which you failed to win the 61 mandates that could have enabled you to be above the law, you are still trying to steal votes from defectors," Ya'alon said. "There are many in Likud who have asked us for help getting rid of you. You will not find such overtures about Gantz in Blue and White."
Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz called upon Blue and White to pass such a law.
"The incoming Knesset has a clear majority for a bill that would prevent there from being an indicted prime minister," Horowitz said. "This would be the right thing to do politically and ethically. It would reflect the will of a majority of the voters." 
But Yamina leader Naftali Bennett said such a bill would be "extremely undemocratic and spit in the face of half the country."
"There were elections two days ago, and they are already trying to bypass the will of the people using unacceptable means," Bennett said.
Sources in the Central Elections Committee said they did not expect Netanyahu's bloc to rise above the 58 seats it received in the current vote count when final results will be announced. Netanyahu will try to woo defectors from parties to the Left of the Likud, but it would have been easier had his bloc won 59 or 60 seats.
Netanyahu's efforts to form a government suffered a blow on Wednesday afternoon when his top target, MK Orly Levy-Abecassis, criticized efforts to woo her.
Levy-Abecassis, whose Gesher party ran in Labor-Gesher-Meretz, was Likud's top choice to defect, because as the leader of an individual party, she could join the government without facing sanctions. She is also the daughter of former Likud minister David Levy.
"There are not and have not been any contacts with political officials," Levy-Abecassis said. "All that has been published so far has been trial balloons and political spin."
Levy-Abecassis said she especially was offended by a report that as part of the deal, the coalition would vote for her father to become president in the June 2021 Knesset vote.
"This is delusional and can only rise in the minds of those who think that anything can be obtained with the right bribe,"  she said. "This is shameful for whoever thought it."
In the statement, Levy-Abecassis did not announce, however, that she would remain in Labor-Gesher-Meretz.
Blue and White MK Meirav Cohen announced on Wednesday that she had received an overture from Likud, and that she turned it down.
"Don't waste your time on me," Cohen said in a video she posted on Twitter.
KAN's veteran political analyst Yaron Deckel reported Tuesday night that President Reuven Rivlin might end up not granting any candidate a mandate to form a government if neither Netanyahu, nor Gantz obtain a clear, 61-MK blocking majority. Deckel revealed that Rivlin could instead give the mandate straight to the Knesset, initiating a 21-day period in which any candidate could form a government.
The Likud could hold a snap primary to replace Netanyahu during those three weeks, especially if a law is passed that would prevent Netanyahu from forming a government. Blue and White intends to push for a unity government in which Gantz would become prime minister first, followed by whoever would be leader of Likud.
Gantz could also attempt to form a minority government if Netanyahu does not obtain a blocking majority. But Joint List leader Ayman Odeh said on Wednesday morning that his party could not support any government in which Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman is a minister, and Liberman has said he would not support a government from outside the coalition.
Leon Sverdelov contributed to this report.