Blue and White backs Gantz, Likud taps PM; both promise to ‘return mandate’
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President's consultationsRivlin: You all have responsibility to prevent 3rd election

Blue and White backs Gantz, Likud taps PM; both promise to ‘return mandate’

Centrist alliance vows a national unity government to ‘represent the people who sent us here’; ruling party will seek coalition ‘maintaining Israel as Jewish and democratic state’

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

Members of the Blue and White party meet with President Reuven Rivlin at the President's Residence in Jerusalem on September 22, 2019 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Members of the Blue and White party meet with President Reuven Rivlin at the President's Residence in Jerusalem on September 22, 2019 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Blue and White representatives on Sunday opened President Reuven Rivlin’s meetings with the parties elected to the Knesset by recommending that their party leader, Benny Gantz, form the next government, saying that they did not think any other candidate should be tasked with the job.

Immediately after the meeting, Likud representatives said the same of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Both parties said they would “return the mandate” to the president if their leader is chosen first and fails to muster a majority coalition, so that their rival or a different MK can try. Netanyahu chose not to do this after he failed to build a majority coalition following April’s elections, instead dissolving the Knesset and triggering last Tuesday’s election re-run.

Rivlin is meeting all the newly elected Knesset factions on Sunday and Monday in order to decide whom to task with forming a government after last week’s vote left neither Netanyahu’s Likud nor Gantz’s Blue and White with a clear path to a majority.

Welcoming Blue and White MKs Moshe Ya’alon, Avi Nissenkorn, Tzvi Hauser, Meirav Cohen, Karine Elharrar and Pnina Tamano-Shata to the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, Rivlin said that it is “the responsibility of everyone I will meet with today” to prevent third elections, after national ballots both in April and last week.

“Not even five months have passed but we are back at the same table,” Rivlin said. “We must prevent a situation where we return again.”

Ya’alon, leading the Blue and White delegation, said the party would recommend Gantz to be the next prime minister.

“We are here out of a sense of mission toward the people of Israel. We have fought two hard elections and we plan to serve the people who sent us here,” Ya’alon said. “Our goal is to create a national liberal government. That is what most of the people want.”

Ya’alon said that Blue and White “invites all the Zionist parties to join us. There is great need right now to unite the public.”

Asked if the party would agree to sit in a unity government headed by Netanyahu, Ya’alon said, “What we have seen over the last two years and during the last two elections campaigns — we feel that the damage cannot be fixed without a change in leadership.”

“We all understand that a stable government, one that can prevent third elections for at least a year, is one that will need to include both major parties,” Rivlin responded, asking if there is another MK, other than Gantz, whom Blue and White saw as an appropriate candidate to form a government.

Yaalon replied, “In one word: No.”

Speaking to the press following the meeting, Ya’alon said, “Blue and White won a clear victory that cannot be denied. Benny is the right person at the moment to unite the people of Israel. This is the will of the people and the need of the hour.

“This will be an good government, headed by Benny Gantz. We will leave the extremists out and form a majority government that will represent the people.”

Members of the Likud party meet with President Reuven Rivlin at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on September 22, 2019, as Rivlin began consulting political leaders to decide who to task with trying to form a new government (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In their meeting with Rivlin, Likud’s representatives — Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, Communications Minister David Amsalem, Culture Minister Miri Regev and MK David Bitan — said that Netanyahu was the best placed to form a government given his backing from the ultra-Orthodox and right-wing Yamina parties.

“When we went to this election, we asked the public for a mandate to form a right-wing government with our partners in the previous government,” Levin said. “We will do all we can to fulfill that vow.”

In a statement later Sunday, the ruling party adds: “Likud will make every effort to establish a stable and strong government committed to maintaining Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. We can’t have a government that relies on Arab parties that oppose the State of Israel.”

Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman earlier Sunday said his secularist right-wing party will not any recommend any candidate for prime minister during its consultation with Rivlin later in the evening.

In his remarks, Liberman — whose party won eight seats in the election — said he could recommend neither Netanyahu nor Gantz, because the latter was about to receive the endorsement of the predominantly Arab Joint List, whose members are anathema to Liberman.

“In the Knesset there is a party that is trying to destroy us from the inside, and in the best case scenario, they belong in parliament in Ramallah not in Israel,” said Liberman. “Therefore we cannot recommend Benny Gantz. Therefore our recommendation to the president is that we won’t recommend anyone.”

“The Haredim [ultra-Orthodox] are political rivals, but not enemies. The Joint List are our enemies,” said Liberman. “Wherever they are, we will be on the other side.”

During a meeting later on Sunday, the ultra-Orthodox Shas party recommended Netanyahu for prime minister.

The president has the power to appoint one of the 120 MKs elected on Tuesday as the next potential prime minister of Israel. The designated lawmaker must then attempt to cobble together a coalition that wins the support of a majority of Knesset members.

Tuesday’s election ended in an apparent deadlock, with Gantz’s Blue and White emerging as the larger party according to almost-final results, at 33 seats, and incumbent premier Netanyahu’s Likud winning 31. Netanyahu heads a right-wing and ultra-Orthodox bloc of 55 MKs. Gantz heads a bloc of 44 centrist and left-wing MKs, plus he has the support of the 13 members of the Joint List alliance of Arab-majority parties, adding up to 57. Yisrael Beytenu, with eight seats, holds the balance of power between the blocs and has yet to announce who, if anyone, it will recommend to Rivlin.

Central Elections Committee Chairman Hanan Melcer presents the official results of the April 9, 2019 Knesset elections to President Reuven Rivlin at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, April 17, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Once a candidate is chosen by the president, they have 28 days to present a coalition to the new Knesset and win a vote of confidence. The president is allowed to extend that period by up to 14 days.

Rivlin has promised to do “everything in his power” to prevent the country from heading to an unprecedented third consecutive election within a year.

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