Gantz signals turn towards minority government without Netanyahu

“On a moral and ethical level, and on a practical level, you cannot lead a government if and when an indictment is submitted against you,” Gantz said to Netanyahu.

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz attends the memorial ceremony for Yitzhak Rabin, Jerusalem, November 10, 2019 (photo credit: REUVEN CASTRO)
Blue and White leader Benny Gantz attends the memorial ceremony for Yitzhak Rabin, Jerusalem, November 10, 2019
(photo credit: REUVEN CASTRO)
Blue and White leader Benny Gantz indicated that a unity government with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is less likely than ever, in remarks he made to the Knesset on Sunday.
Gantz said that “Israel needs national reconciliation more than anything else” and “a government led by the majority,” including Likud, in his speech at the legislature’s memorial for former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.
However, he made several other comments showing his unwillingness to work with Netanyahu.
“On a moral and ethical level, and on a practical level, you cannot lead a government if and when an indictment is submitted against you,” Gantz said to Netanyahu.
It is unclear when Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit will decide whether to indict Netanyahu and on what counts, though some have estimated it will happen in the coming days.
The exact point at which Netanyahu would have to leave the Prime Minister’s Office in a rotation with Gantz for the premiership is one of the disputes between Likud and Blue and White, which promised not to sit in a coalition with Netanyahu when he is under indictment. Likud, however, seeks to have Netanyahu remain in office for a year or until his trial begins.
In addition, Gantz said: “Instead of security considerations dictating political behavior, political and personal considerations are dictating security considerations.”
Netanyahu took particular umbrage with that statement, shaking his head vigorously when Gantz made it and using his right to respond in the Knesset to deny it.
Gantz also said: “Some of the public’s leaders are not criticizing or holding a legitimate argument; rather, they are leading delegitimization campaigns... They are working against the police, the IDF and the judiciary for personal and political reasons.”
In Sunday’s cabinet meeting, Netanyahu accused Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman of working with Blue and White and the Joint Lis to establish a minority government.
Netanyahu responded to the ultimatum Liberman made to him and Gantz, by which the former must give up on the rest of the right-wing bloc, the latter must allow Netanyahu to be prime minister first in a rotation agreement, and both would form a national-unity government. If one side won’t compromise, then Liberman will support the other.
“I HOPE IT’S not so, but it looks like Liberman is coordinating with the Joint List and Blue and White on all the details,” Netanyahu said.
If the 55-seat right-wing bloc does not break up, and Liberman backs Gantz as he said he would, then the Blue and White leader’s only option – assuming he continues to oppose working with the right-wing parties as a bloc – is a minority government with outside support from the Joint List.
Netanyahu pointed out that six weeks ago, Liberman called the Joint List “a fifth column trying to destroy us from the inside” and “enemies,” and that “they belong in the parliament in Ramallah and not in the Knesset.” He made similar comments again 10 days ago to KAN Bet.
Netanyahu added: “The ultimatum that’s supposedly to both sides is only an ultimatum to the Likud and not to Blue and White. He said clearly to the Likud, ‘I will not allow you to establish a narrow government supported by Shas, United Torah Judaism and Yamina’... but he doesn’t say something similar to Blue and White. He doesn’t say he won’t let them establish a narrow government supported by the Joint Arab List with Ayman Odeh and Ahmed Tibi.”
Therefore, Netanyahu concluded that Liberman wants a left-wing minority government supported by the Joint List, “that will be dependent on them every day and on every matter.”
“That is obviously the worst and most dangerous scenario for the State of Israel,” Netanyahu said, calling to avoid a third election and for the establishment of a broad national unity government.
Earlier on Sunday, Liberman contacted Netanyahu’s and Gantz’s offices to arrange meetings with them, in which he will present his ultimatum.
Liberman also plans to meet with President Reuven Rivlin on Wednesday.
Gantz faces strong opposition from Telem, the right-wing party within Blue and White, as well as some within his own Israel Resilience Party, to forming a minority government supported by the Joint List, because the faction is anti-Zionist and has MKs who have expressed support for terrorist organizations.
MK Ofer Cassif of the Joint List denied that they would support a government with Yisrael Beytenu.
“There is no scenario in which the Joint List will support a government in which Liberman is a member,” Cassif said. “Liberman is one of the greatest racists here, who calls Arab citizens ‘enemies’ and Jewish democrats ‘a fifth column.’ Liberman is the one who started inciting against Hadash and the Joint List and called us terrorists and was the one who wanted to ban me from running.”
This does not necessarily rule out an option of Yisrael Beytenu abstaining from a vote when a government is formed without the party, and then joining the coalition on a later date when the support of the Joint List is no longer needed.
Joint List MK Aida Touma-Sliman responded to a report that Blue and White wants the Joint List to push out Balad, the most extreme of its parties, saying that: “The public supported us in droves in September because we united in the Joint List. The public’s trust in us and our unity are the source of our legitimacy and our power. We want to bring down Netanyahu, but not at the price of legitimizing Liberman on the way. Gantz needs to decide what he is: deeply right-wing, or an alternative.”
MEANWHILE, Yisrael Beytenu MK Oded Forer, who is close to Liberman, took the Likud’s side in a dispute between the party and Blue and White about when in the legal process Netanyahu would have to leave the Prime Minister’s Office.
Forer said in an interview with Ynet that Netanyahu would not have to step down from the premiership in a rotation with Gantz when Netanyahu is indicted; rather, he would do so when his trial begins.
A poll on Channel 13 News showed that if an election were to take place, the current political impasse would not be resolved, because the results may not be much different from the current Knesset. The pro-Netanyahu bloc would have 54 seats instead of 55 and the pro-Gantz bloc would still have 54. The seat the Right lost went to Yisrael Beytenu, which did not recommend any candidate.
In the same cabinet meeting in which Netanyahu made his remarks about Liberman, the cabinet voted to authorize Naftali Bennett as defense minister.
Bennett said he accepted the position “out of a deep sense of responsibility for Israel’s security.”
“I have fought for Israel’s security my whole life,” he said. “I thank Prime Minister Netanyahu for his trust in me. I will work with him for Israel’s security.”
The only dissenting vote came from Immigration and Absorption Minister Yoav Gallant, a former IDF general, who explained his choice, saying: “Israel is in a complex and sensitive period for its security. This appointment does not serve Israel’s security.”
Netanyahu gave Bennett the coveted portfolio to ensure that the New Right remains in the right-wing bloc. In return, the New Right faction merged with Likud, making it now the largest faction in the Knesset, with 35 seats as opposed to Blue and White’s 33.
Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel resigned from office at Netanyahu’s request. Ariel remained in the position until Sunday despite not having run in either of this year’s elections.