Tasked by president, Gantz says he’s aiming for ‘patriotic government’ in days
'I'll lead Israeli recovery from coronavirus, virus of hate'

Tasked by president, Gantz says he’s aiming for ‘patriotic government’ in days

In shot at Netanyahu, Blue and White chairman says he wants a unity coalition but not at expense of democratic values; vows to work for all, including settlers and Arab Israelis

Jacob Magid is the settlements correspondent for The Times of Israel.

President Reuven Rivlin (R) tasks Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz with forming a government in a ceremony at the President's Residence in Jerusalem on March 16, 2020. (Mark Neyman/GPO)
President Reuven Rivlin (R) tasks Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz with forming a government in a ceremony at the President's Residence in Jerusalem on March 16, 2020. (Mark Neyman/GPO)

Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz vowed on Monday to cobble together a coalition “within days” after President Reuven Rivlin tasked the centrist alliance leader with forming a government in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I give you my word: I will do everything to establish within days — as few as I can — a national government, one that is as patriotic and as broad as possible,” Gantz said in an address from the President’s Residence in Jerusalem.

He specified that the government he would form would “protect the interests of the residents of Judea and Samaria [West Bank] and the Arab citizens of Israel, of the residents of the periphery and those in the center.”

“A government that I’ll lead will help Israeli society recover from the coronavirus, as well as the virus of schism and hatred,” he continued.

President Reuven Rivlin (R) tasks Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz with forming a government in a ceremony at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on March 16, 2020. (Mark Neyman/GPO)

Gantz said repairing Israel’s healthcare system would be a top priority of his government. Commenting on reports that medical staff in Israel has been battling the coronavirus with insufficient protection gear and supplies, the Blue and White chairman said, he “sincerely hoped” they were “purely a rumor and not a managerial omission.”

He vowed that his government would discuss the “lessons [that must be] learned and the urgent need to restore the public medical system in Israel.”

Gantz then appealed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who ran a blistering campaign against the Blue and White leader over his his willingness to cooperate with the majority-Arab Joint List party.

Avoiding a handshake metaphor in the social-distancing days of the coronavirus, Gantz said, “I extend my elbows to all the elected factions in the Knesset, including Benjamin Netanyahu, and urge them to put aside the devastating verbal weapons and baseless hatred” in order to join him.

“I’ve always wanted [a] unity [government],” Gantz continued, “unity that comes not at the expense of Israeli democratic and state values.”

Benjamin Netanyahu, right, elbow bumps Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem on March 15, 2020. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

The remark appeared to be a shot at Netanyahu, who has been accused of using the coronavirus to avoid standing trial on corruption charges. The opening of that hearing had been slated for Tuesday, but at 1 a.m. on Sunday, the justice minister instituted a “state of emergency” over the court system that led to the delay of Netanyahu’s trial until May 24.

“The time has come for fewer empty words, and more great deeds. It’s time to put boycotts and swords aside and reconnect all tribes of Israel, all the citizens of Israel. We will beat the coronavirus. We will win against the hatred. Our hope has not yet been lost,” Gantz concluded, quoting a line from the country’s national anthem.

The ceremonial tapping of Gantz to form the government came hours after Rivlin hosted the Blue and White leader along with Netanyahu for a three-way summit Sunday evening in an effort to encourage the two men to form an emergency unity government amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Signifying his intention to begin negotiations immediately, Rivlin also invited the heads of the Likud and Blue and White negotiating teams to be present. Following the meeting, Netanyahu and Gantz released a joint statement saying that they had both “thanked the president of the state for inviting them to the joint meeting” and that “the two agreed that negotiating teams would meet soon.”

Benjamin Netanyahu, left, Reuven Rivlin, center, and Benny Gantz, meeting in Jerusalem on March 15, 2020. (Kobi Gideon/ GPO)

Earlier Sunday, Netanyahu went public with a pair of alternative offers for a unity government with Gantz, urging the de facto opposition chairman to choose either to serve under him in a six-month emergency government or replace him after two years as part of a four-year rotational coalition.

Rivlin, after September’s election, proposed a unity government between the two, with Netanyahu serving as prime minister for some six months before being replaced by Gantz. While both took a stab at forming a government, neither succeeded, leading to the elections in March, the third in under a year.

Rivlin’s proposal this time was based on the previous offer, but reportedly gives Netanyahu a full year as prime minister before handing the baton to Gantz, according to the Kan public broadcaster.

Immediately before the Sunday evening meeting, Rivlin announced that he would task Gantz with forming a government after the Blue and White leader received the endorsement of a majority of Knesset members.

His announcement came shortly after Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman joined the Joint List and Labor-Gesher-Meretz parties in endorsing Gantz for prime minister. With the nod given by Liberman during consultations with Rivlin, Gantz picked up 61 of 120 recommendations, compared to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s 58 endorsements.

Netanyahu’s Likud won 36 Knesset seats in the March election compared to Blue and White’s 33, but the Likud leader’s right-wing bloc again failed to muster a parliamentary majority.

Liberman’s backing for Gantz marked an unlikely alliance between the hawkish ex-defense minister, who has long condemned Arab lawmakers as “terrorist sympathizers,” and the predominantly Arab Joint List, with both aiming to unseat Netanyahu.

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