Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz traded accusations Friday over the failure to reach a compromise unity government and vowed to defeat each other in looming third elections.
After neither secured a majority of seats together with their respective allies in the September election, both Gantz and Netanyahu expressed their support for a unity government including both of their parties, but talks between them have failed to result in a coalition and they have traded blame for the impasse. On Tuesday, a meeting between Gantz and Netanyahu broke down after just 45 minutes.
In a video Friday, Netanyahu summed up his diplomatic achievements in a week in which he spoke to US President Donald Trump and traveled to Lisbon, Portugal to meet US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, but said he could not report on any progress on the local political deadlock.
Netanyahu said his Likud party had offered far-reaching compromises, but “Blue and White, Benny Gantz have not budged, not a millimeter, not even a nano meter.”
“He’s Benny Gantz,” Netanyahu said dismissively, calling him “Kavush,” a Hebrew word that can either mean “conquered,” or “pickled.”
“And so, to my sorrow, we are sliding toward a completely unnecessary third elections that none of us want, but if they will be forced on us, we will win and win big,” Netanyahu said.
If no lawmaker manages to get the support of at least 61 members of the 120-strong Knesset by December 11, elections will be called for the third time in less than a year.
Gantz, meanwhile, blamed Netanyahu for the impasse, saying that while their many meetings in recent years had always been cordial, the one held earlier this week was different.
“This time Netanyahu came to blow up the proceedings. He’s not the same person I know, and I know him very well,” Gantz wrote in a Facebook post.
“Despite my hopes, Netanyahu did not offer anything new that would prevent unnecessary elections. He did not agree to give up immunity, his bloc (of 55 religious and right-wing parties), and of course he did not give up on his demand to be first in a rotation” of the prime ministership. (The reference to immunity relates to Netanyahu’s anticipated bid to seek immunity in the Knesset from prosecution in the three corruption cases for which charges have been issued against him.)
“Netanyahu did not win in April, he lost in September, and if he drags us there, we will defeat him in 2020,” Gantz vowed.
If elections are held they will most likely be on March 3, the Knesset’s top legal adviser, Eyal Yinon, said Friday.
“As professionals in the field, we are also preparing for the announcement Tuesday night of a unity government and legislative assessments are underway for all possibilities,” Yinon said.
The statement came a day after the director of the Central Elections Committee warned that the panel is currently unprepared if the Knesset doesn’t meet the December 11 deadline for at least 61 lawmakers to agree on an MK who would form a government and end the political deadlock.
“We don’t have staff, offices, equipment. The storerooms are empty. This is the current situation,” Orly Adas said during a press conference at the Knesset.
She said the committee was facing a serious budget shortfall following the past two elections.
“We don’t have the professional workers who know what election work is,” she said.
With a unity government looking unlikely, hopes for a narrow government have also faded.
Yisrael Beytenu party leader MK Avigdor Liberman declared that he will no longer agree to join any narrow government.
In excerpts from an interview published Thursday, Liberman said he would not be part of a narrow government — either right or left — because “the combination of dramatic defense and economic decisions with a narrow government is likely to create a large rift and polarization in the public.”
A narrow government is a government of “perpetual friction,” Liberman told the Yedioth Ahronoth daily.
Since unity between Likud and rivals Blue and White is not happening either, “elections are coming,” he said.
Liberman campaigned on a unity government of his party, Likud, and Blue and White ahead of elections in September and has continued to push for such an arrangement amid the ongoing deadlock in coalition talks.
“To my regret, both of them [Gantz and Netanyahu] took a strategic decision to not go to unity, and therefore the two parties are responsible for another round of elections.”
“Our hands are clean,” he said.
Liberman accused Netanyahu and Gantz of playing the blame game and said that he had tried to push them into forming a unity government but now they are both looking to better their positions via another round of elections.
Netanyahu and Gantz, he said, are each relying on poll findings and hoping that they can win the next election — Netanyahu by leading a bloc of at least 61 seats and Gantz by getting at least 36 seats for his own party, a result which would better position him to negotiate a majority coalition without Likud in the 120-seat Knesset.
Liberman also admitted that remarks made to media earlier in the week by two lawmakers from his own party, in which they urged Yisrael Beytenu to join a narrow right-wing government led by Netanyahu, were part of a deliberate ploy intended to pressure Blue and White into joining a unity government with Likud.
The lawmaker said that when Netanyahu was given first try to form a coalition after September elections, he initially kept quiet but in the last week of the prime minister’s efforts he hinted he might join Netanyahu’s bloc “in order to apply pressure on Blue and White.”
After Netanyahu admitted he had failed to establish a government, the baton passed to Gantz, who was also ultimately unable to negotiate a majority coalition.
Liberman claimed that for its own interests, the correct thing for Yisrael Beytenu to do was to enter a narrow Netanyahu-led government, but that he wasn’t doing so for the greater good of the country. Yisrael Beytenu won eight seats in the last election. Likud won 32, which positioned Netanyahu at the head of a 55-seat bloc of MKs from allied right-wing and religious parties.
“That could have been a government of 63 [seats]. I could have been acting prime minister and defense minister, to get another two ministries, any [Knesset] committee I wanted, any budget that serves the interest of my party.”
No other party, he asserted, would have taken a such a decision against its own interests and for the benefit of the country.
The report was a preview of a full article to be published in the Yedioth Ahronoth weekend edition.