After a year of seemingly unbreakable political deadlock that left the country without a fully functioning government and sent Israelis to the polls three times, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White party chairman Benny Gantz on Thursday appeared ready to set aside their differences and enter into an emergency unity coalition.
The government could likely constitute some 78-79 MKs — Likud, Gantz’s Israel Resilience, Yamina, Shas and United Torah Judaism and possibly Labor. That would leave Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid, Moshe Ya’alon’s Telem, Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu, Meretz and the mainly Arab Joint List in opposition. However, various other fluctuations are deemed possible, with Yoaz Hendel and Zvi Hauser from Telem, for instance, said to be weighing joining the coalition if this is possible under Knesset laws.
Gantz’s decision to join forces with Netanyahu led to the immediate collapse of Blue and White, with the party’s No. 2, Yair Lapid, rejecting the move and apparently heading into the opposition with others from his Yesh Atid component of Blue and White. “Gantz chose Netanyahu over Lapid,” Channel 12 reported succinctly.
The Yesh Atid and Telem factions both filed a formal request to break away from Blue and White late on Thursday afternoon, leaving only Gantz’s Israel Resilience party to join forces with Netanyahu’s Likud. Lapid had reportedly told Gantz he preferred that Israel go to fourth elections than see Blue and White partner with Netanyahu in power.
Gantz, according to Channel 12, is set to hold the position of Knesset speaker only for a brief period while the terms of the unity coalition are finalized. He will then serve as either defense or foreign minister for the first 18 months of the emergency unity government, under the terms of the reported deal, before succeeding Netanyahu as prime minister.
It was not clear what post Netanyahu would fill at that stage. The prime minister has been indicted in three corruption cases, in a trial that was supposed to begin last week but has been postponed to May amid the coronavirus crisis. By law, a lawmaker under indictment is barred from serving as a minister.
MK Gabi Ashkenazi, like Gantz a former IDF chief of staff — No. 4 in the collapsed Blue and White party — will reportedly be either defense minister or foreign minister, depending on what Gantz takes, while MK Chili Tropper will reportedly be the justice minister.
The Sport and Culture Ministry, currently headed by Likud’s Miri Regev, is also set to go to Gantz’s faction.
Despite being severely outnumbered in the emerging new coalition, Gantz’s Israel Resilience will receive a number of ministerial portfolios equal to that of the entire right-wing bloc, Haaretz reported.
Many top Likud officials and ministers may therefore soon find themselves distanced from key positions they either hold or have yearned for.
One such potential example is former Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat, who has had his sights set on the treasury and was promised by Netanyahu that he would be the next finance minister.
Channel 12 reported that Foreign Minister Israel Katz is now seen as the leading candidate for that role.
Attempting to preempt such a move, a statement given to the press by associates of Barkat said, “Nir Barkat trusts the prime minister fully and has no doubt he will fulfill his promise to the people of Israel and appoint him as finance minister in the emergency government.”
It was not clear what positions the Yamina party would receive in the emerging coalition, with party leader Naftali Bennett set to be ousted from the Defense Ministry and former justice minister Ayelet Shaked almost certain to not return to the sought-after and highly contentious ministry, which will reportedly go to Tropper or another of Gantz’s colleagues.