Blue and White party chairman Benny Gantz, along with other senior members of the centrist alliance, is reportedly livid over the opposition of two MKs from his party’s right-wing flank to the formation of a minority government that will rely on the outside support of the majority-Arab Joint List.
Those fuming include MK Moshe Ya’alon, who chairs Blue and White’s Telem sub-faction, Channel 12 news reported Sunday. While Ya’alon has warmed to the idea of a minority government as the only way to remove Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and prevent a fourth election, two other Telem MKs, Zvi Hauser and Yoaz Hendel, do not feel the same.
An official in the party told Channel 12 that Hauser and Hendel were “serving Netanyahu and thwarting a Gantz[-led] government.”
Ya’alon on Sunday held a meeting in Tel Aviv with the two rebel lawmakers, whom Gantz reportedly accused of having prevented him from taking the same path after the last election. According to Channel 13, the conversation turned heated and yelling could be heard from the other side of the door.
On Sunday evening, a group of teenagers from a pre-military academy protested outside of Hendel’s home, calling on him to resist pressure to form a Joint List-backed government. The protesters were from the Lachish program, which is run by the husband Sarah Beck, a member of the right-wing Yamina party.
In footage from the demonstration, Hendel could be seen going outside to meet the protesters, serving them tea and urging them to pressure other lawmakers to form a Likud-Blue and White unity government.
“Unity is an existential need,” Hendel tweeted above a post reporting on the protest.
יועז הנדל יצא הערב לכמה חבר'ה, בני ובנות מכינות, שמפגינים מחוץ לבתי פוליטיקאים בקריאה לאחדות.
הנדל: "אם תלחצו מספיק חזק תביאו לאחדות" pic.twitter.com/Pvz3IOUKmR
— Yanir Cozin – יניר קוזין (@yanircozin) March 8, 2020
Regardless, Gantz directed his coalition negotiators to prepare for talks with the Joint List to form a unity government, Channel 12 reported.
The network separately quoted officials in the Joint List fuming at Gantz over the centrist party’s efforts to conceal its cooperation with the majority-Arab party.
“Either we enter negotiations with Gantz through the front door or we don’t enter at all,” said one Joint List MK, according to the channel.
“They must talk to us in the same manner in which they talk to other parties. There will not be deals inked in dark rooms,” the official added, saying the party would abide being made “a punching bag” when it was politically expedient for Blue and White MKs.
Another Joint List official told Channel 12, “Gantz needs to decide if we as the leaders of the Arab public are legitimate in his eyes or not. [If he does not], then he had best find another party to form a government. He needs to show us how he differentiates himself from Netanyahu if he wants us to recommend him. If Blue and White continues with this [attitude], they will not receive our recommendation. It is not in their pocket.”
The Blue and White leadership met on Sunday and decided that the best path forward is to form a minority government, given that a unity coalition doesn’t appear to be on the table and that another election may not even be possible given the coronavirus outbreak, Channel 12 reported.
Accordingly, the party is preparing to launch a media blitz to combat Likud, which has blasted Blue and White for cooperating with “terror supporters” in the Joint List party. The centrist alliance will reportedly seek to explain that in exchange for a single abstention vote from the 15 Joint List MKs, it will be agreeing to the same social-minded gestures to the Arab public that Likud has offered the minority in the past. It will then work to pass a budget before welcoming any other interested parties, including Likud, to join the coalition, Channel 12 reported.
Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party is expected to recommend to President Reuven Rivlin that Gantz be tasked with forming a government, according to Hebrew media reports Thursday neither confirmed nor denied by the party.
With Liberman’s backing, Gantz could receive more recommendations than Netanyahu, complicating Rivlin’s choice of whom to give first shot at forming a government.
Though neither mustered majority Knesset support in Monday’s election, Netanyahu has the backing of 58 MKs and his Likud is the largest party. But were Liberman and the entire Joint List of mainly Arab parties to recommend Gantz, he would have 62 backers. Even if the three-strong Balad faction of the Joint List chose not to back Gantz, as happened in September, the Blue and White leader would still have 59 if Hauser and Hendel fall in line.
Liberman and Gantz are scheduled to meet in the Kfar Maccabiah hotel in Ramat Gan on Monday to further discuss coordination between their parties.
Jacob Magid contributed to this report.