Appearing to dismiss unity, Gantz says he will do all possible to oust Netanyahu

Appearing to dismiss unity, Gantz says he will do all possible to oust Netanyahu

Centrist leader and others rule out joining a government headed by a premier on trial, amid rampant speculation of Likud contacts with potential ‘deserters’ to fill out coalition

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz at the party's post-election event in Tel Aviv on March 3, 2020. (Gali Tibbon/AFP)
Blue and White leader Benny Gantz at the party's post-election event in Tel Aviv on March 3, 2020. (Gali Tibbon/AFP)

Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz on Tuesday appeared to rule out joining a unity government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, narrowing the premier’s options to form a coalition as his Likud party and its right-wing religious partners appeared to come short of a majority in the elections.

“I won’t sit in a government under a person with three indictments,” Gantz told reporters after a Blue and White faction meeting in Ramat Gan.

He was referring to the three corruption cases that Netanyahu will stand trial in later this month, which involve suspicions the premier received illegal gifts and positive news coverage in exchange for political favors. Netanyahu denies wrongdoing and has dismissed the charges as a witch hunt.

Gantz said his party was waiting for the final election results.

“We’ll do everything the results and law allow us to replace the government,” he said.

The Blue and White party leader did not respond when asked if he would agree to a unity government with Likud.

Though Gantz had rejected serving under Netanyahu in the run-up to the elections, he did not explicitly rule out doing so in a speech to party activists early Tuesday.

Blue and White MK Yair Lapid at the party’s post-election event in Tel Aviv on March 3, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Ahead of the faction meeting, Blue and White No. 2 Yair Lapid also ruled out joining a Netanyahu-led coalition.

“As you surely noticed, Bibi [Netanyahu], as his habit, rushed a little to declare victory. He still doesn’t have a government,” Lapid said. “I won’t sit under Netanyahu and none of the people that will pass through this door will sit under Netanyahu.”

With over 92.5 percent of votes counted, Likud was set to finish as the largest party with 36 seats, ahead of Blue and White’s 32.

But the initial results had Likud and its allies together getting 59 seats, two short of a majority.

In light of the expected results, parties that have opposed Netanyahu were expected to come under pressure to join a coalition he heads in order to avoid a fourth consecutive round of elections.

Earlier Tuesday, Likud lawmakers and Netanyahu’s spokesman said they would be looking to bring in “deserters” from other parties to make up the shortfall.

Likud spokesman Yonatan Urich told Channel 13 of contacts with “four to six” MKs from “the other side” and predicted that Netanyahu would be able to form a majority coalition with the support of some of them “within a few days.”

MK Miki Zohar admitted that if Likud was left needing to bring more than two lawmakers from other parties, it would be far more difficult for Netanyahu to form a coalition; however, he said he remained confident of forming a government in that scenario and preventing a fourth round of elections.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) at a meeting of the 55-member union of his Likud party and other right-wing and religious parties, in the Knesset, November 18, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Blue and White MKs Zvi Hauser and Yoaz Hendel, both former aides to Netanyahu and members of the Telem faction within the party, have denied reports they were mulling joining Likud.

However Hendel told Channel 12 news that he thought the country needed a unity government to move forward. When asked if that included joining a prime minister on trial, he said no.

Blue and White MK Omer Yankelevich also denied she could jump ship after a report said Likud threatened to publish embarrassing recordings of her if she doesn’t defect.

MK Orly Levy-Abekasis, who heads the Gesher faction in the Labor-Gesher-Meretz alliance, has also been tipped as a possibility to switch sides in return for a cabinet portfolio.

Labor-Gesher-Meretz MKs Orly Levy-Abekasis (L) and Amir Peretz at the party’s post-election event in Tel Aviv on March 2, 2020. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Levy-Abekasis sparked speculation about her future when she tweeted in the wake of the exit poll results that she “hopes to wake up tomorrow to a new era of action.” She removed the post a short time later, after journalists asked if it signaled an openness to splitting off and joining a right-wing coalition in order to give it a majority.

According to a Channel 13 report Tuesday, Levy-Abekasis and Labor chief Amir Peretz are not ruling out joining a Netanyahu-led government due to their frustrations with the Blue and White party over its campaign against Labor-Gesher-Meretz.

The network said the pair claimed a Blue and White ad saying those who vote for Amir Peretz will receive [Yamina’s Rafi] Peretz and those who vote Orly [Levy-Abekasis] will get [Likud’s] Miri [Regev].

Peretz and Levy reportedly feel that the ad was racist because they are both Mizrahi and they were specifically compared to two other Mizrahi lawmakers on the right.

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