Right bloc eyes direct elections while Netanyahu still calls for unity

Liberman denies compromising; MK accuses Netanyahu of intervening in Likud race.

Tension was evident between Blue and White leader Benny Gantz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the opening of the Knesset’s new session on April 30 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Tension was evident between Blue and White leader Benny Gantz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the opening of the Knesset’s new session on April 30
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Senior members of the right-wing bloc moved toward bringing back direct elections for prime minister as a solution to the current political impasse, even as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he is still seeking a unity government on Tuesday.
New Likud faction chairman Miki Zohar said on Tuesday that the party would promote it and also propose to cancel the vacation day on the day of the vote. Both are moves to try to mitigate the damage of a possible third election in one year and not necessarily a permanent law for future elections.
But the Likud spokesman said, “Prime Minister Netanyahu is not promoting a law for direct elections; rather, he is working on forming a broad national unity government, the only government that can be established and what the State of Israel needs at this time.”
The Likud message did not say that Netanyahu opposed other people working on the bill.
Likud and Blue and White’s negotiating teams plan to meet on Wednesday afternoon.
If there were direct elections, Netanyahu would receive 40% of the vote, followed by Blue and White leader Benny Gantz with 36%, a Channel 12 poll found on Tuesday. The remaining 24% do not know who they would choose.
Zohar said he thinks Netanyahu is seriously considering the moves and “really wants it... it can be a fantastic solution.”
“It’ll save a lot of money. Direct elections without a vacation day has a much lower cost, just a few tens of millions of shekels. It’ll save billions,” he said. The state would also not have to give loans to dozens of political parties.
Zohar said that if there are direct elections, then “whoever will be elected will be prime minister for four years and will have to build a coalition. Every one of the MKs in the house will know... that they have to get along” with the victor.
The proposal is meant to resolve the current political impasse, in which Likud and Blue and White are not managing to form a national unity coalition but neither has a majority without the other.
However, Zohar said that it could be passed as a permanent law that if there is no government after a certain amount of time, there will be direct elections for the prime minister.
“The public is suffering from the [government] paralysis,” he said. “This will save them a headache.”
Israel had direct elections for prime minister in 1996, 1999 and 2001, but went back to its previous system, with elections only for the Knesset, because of difficulties in forming and maintaining coalitions in the new system.
Shas leader Arye Deri raised the idea of direct elections in a meeting of the parties in the 55-seat right-wing bloc on Monday afternoon, but Netanyahu reportedly dismissed it.
Still, New Right leader Ayelet Shaked said at a conference on Tuesday that “Deri’s initiative in the current situation is the correct one.”
“I support it and we talked about it, and they even started writing the bill in the Knesset,” Shaked said. “We need to ask other parties if they really want it. This way, we can save ourselves this exhausting election.”
Blue and White did not respond to requests for comment.
But Gantz tweeted: “Netanyahu is not willing to give up on the bloc. Netanyahu is not willing to give up on immunity [from prosecution]. Netanyahu is not willing to discuss guidelines for a unity government. Netanyahu wants to drag Israel to a third election. I will do everything so it doesn’t happen. I will do everything to form a government.”
Blue and White’s negotiating team met with its counterparts in Labor and had a meeting that they called positive, focusing on socioeconomic issues.
Shaked is also involved in efforts to mediate between Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman and Shas and United Torah Judaism in order to form a right-wing government. She said in the conference that it is still too early to say if the efforts will work, because Gantz has 15 days left with the mandate to build a government, and then there are 21 days for the Knesset to pick a candidate.
“That’s an eternity in politics,” she quipped.
Earlier Tuesday, Liberman denied having made any compromises.
“This morning I heard and read about a mixture of nonsense from reporters in various media about the moves that Yisrael Beytenu is supposedly planning: Compromises on religion and state, connecting to one bloc or another, etc. These reports have no grasp in reality and no basis, and are solely the responsibility of writers and commentators!” Liberman tweeted.
Sources close to Liberman have said that he is taking this week to consider his next moves in the current political deadlock.
Zohar spoke to The Jerusalem Post the day after he won the election for Likud faction chairman with 18 votes to MK Yoav Kisch’s 11.
Netanyahu did not support either candidate openly, but Kisch accused Netanyahu’s advisers, and implicitly Netanyahu, of promoting Zohar behind the scenes.
Zohar said that he asked Netanyahu for his support first, but “the prime minister decided strategically, the minute Kisch entered the race, not to take a stance, because he didn’t want discord in the faction.”
“He used his democratic right to vote, but didn’t take a stand,” Zohar said of Netanyahu. “If the prime minister voted for me and not Kisch, it’s his business.”
As for Kisch’s accusation that Netanyahu’s advisers encouraged MKs to vote for Zohar, the latter said: “If one of Netanyahu’s people wanted me and not Kisch, that’s that person’s business, but the prime minister said he’s not getting involved.”
Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to this report.