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AG said to think Blue and White can stay in cabinet even if party not in Knesset

Report says Mandelblit leaning toward letting ministers retain posts in transition government even if Gantz’s party fails to clear electoral threshold

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit speaks during an event at Bar Ilan University, March 4, 2020. (FLASH90/File)
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit speaks during an event at Bar Ilan University, March 4, 2020. (FLASH90/File)

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit is reportedly leaning toward allowing ministers from the Blue and White party to keep their cabinet posts in a transition government, even if the party fails to enter the Knesset in the March 23 elections.

Quoting sources who recently spoke with Mandelblit, the Globes business daily reported Tuesday that the attorney general believes the power-sharing agreement between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud and Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s Blue and White — which the parties passed into law — remains in force until it is amended or a new government is formed.

By remaining in the transition government, Blue and White would have veto power over government decisions and Netanyahu would be unable to fire the party’s ministers, which Gantz has warned the premier may do if Blue and White fails to clear the minimum electoral threshold.

The newspaper said it was not known what Mandelblit’s position was on whether Gantz could take over as prime minister in November of this year as part of the rotation agreement with Netanyahu, if no government is formed by then. Under Israeli law, the prime minister must be a member of Knesset.

The report came days after Mandelblit told Gantz he will only rule on whether Netanyahu can fire Blue and White ministers if the party does not pass the electoral threshold when the question becomes relevant.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz attend a graduation ceremony for new Air Force pilots at the Hatzerim air base near Beersheba, June 25, 2020. (Ariel Schalit/ Pool/AFP)

Gantz has said recently that he fears if he fails to enter the next Knesset, Netanyahu may fire him and his ministers before a new government is established and take far-reaching steps to cripple the justice system and hinder his trial on criminal charges.

He spoke as several polls at the time showed Blue and White falling beneath the four-seat threshold to enter the Knesset, though more recent polling has had the party pass with 4-5 seats.

Gantz currently serves as alternate prime minister, an unprecedented post created as part of the power-sharing deal between himself and Netanyahu in May 2020. In that role, he has the power to veto cabinet votes and holds control over key ministries that Netanyahu cannot pry away from him, as long as the government holds.

He is also slated to take the reins as premier in November, if that government is still in office — an unlikely scenario, but one that could potentially come to pass should political deadlock continue and no new government is formed following the upcoming election.

Legal experts recently told The Times of Israel that they believe Gantz’s position is secure, as the laws governing the current coalition, now in an interim capacity, must remain in effect until a new permanent government is formed.

Defense Minister and Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz attends a Channel 12 News conference in Jerusalem on March 7, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Gantz has said repeatedly in recent months that Blue and White’s presence in the outgoing coalition has protected Israeli democracy in the face of concerted efforts by Netanyahu and his supporters to weaken it, as he stands trial for corruption.

When Gantz signed the coalition deal with Netanyahu, critics warned that Netanyahu could not be trusted to hand over the premiership in November 2021, as was required by the Likud-Blue and White agreement.

The deal’s lone loophole that allowed the premier to avoid doing so was a failure to pass an annual budget. Gantz and many others now believe Netanyahu used that loophole precisely to prevent the deal from coming to fruition. For months, Likud and Blue and White fought over the budget as Netanyahu sought to change aspects of the coalition agreement. Ultimately, a deadline to approve a budget passed in December and the Knesset was automatically disbanded, leading to a new election, Israel’s fourth in two years.

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