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AG says won’t rule now on whether PM can eject Gantz from gov’t after election

Blue and White leader says he fears Netanyahu will fire him, seek broad changes to democratic system if he fails to enter Knesset; Mandelblit: Matter is currently ‘theoretical’

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit attends an event at the Dan Hotel in Jerusalem, February 6, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit attends an event at the Dan Hotel in Jerusalem, February 6, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has informed Defense Minister Benny Gantz that he will not currently examine whether the prime minister can fire Gantz’s and his Blue and White members from the transitional government should the party fail to pass the electoral threshold in the March 23 vote.

Mandelblit informed Gantz this week that he will rule if and when the question becomes relevant.

Gantz has said recently he fears that 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.

In a February interview with Channel 12 News, Gantz said: “If I do not cross the electoral threshold needed to enter the Knesset, and there’s a transitional government headed by Netanyahu, the very next day Netanyahu will fire all the Blue and White ministers, appoint [Likud’s Amir] Ohana as justice minister, fire Mandelblit, not extend the appointment of [new] state prosecutor Amit Aisman, and turn this place into a monarchy.

“There will be a fundamental change of the structure of the [governing] regime in Israel right in front of our eyes.”

Benny Gantz: “A fragmented society whose members feel alienated and marginalized is a society ready to target those it holds responsible for its troubles.”(Gili Yaari/Flash90)

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.

Related: Gantz in ToI interview: What does Israel want in its leaders? Integrity or lies and manipulation?

Gantz currently serves as alternate prime minister, an unprecedented post created as part of the power-sharing agreement 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 so long as the government holds.

He is also slated to take the reins as premier in November of this year, 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 be formed following the March 23 election.

However, it is not clear whether Gantz would retain these powers should his party be ejected from the Knesset. The Blue and White leader recently appealed to Mandelblit to rule on the matter.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz (L) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset plenum on August 24, 2020. (Knesset Spokesperson’s Office)

But Mandelblit said in a response that taking a position on the issue at this point could be seen as interference in the political process ahead of an election.

The matter is “currently theoretical,” Mandelblit said, and is based on questions “that may not eventually come to pass.” He added that, “In the event that the question becomes relevant, I will of course address it.”

Legal experts recently told The Times of Israel 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.

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 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 now believes Netanyahu used that loophole precisely to prevent the deal from being adhered to. 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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