Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu admitted on Thursday that he kept his senior coalition partners in the Blue and White party — including Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi and Defense Minister Benny Gantz — out of the loop regarding the brewing normalization deal between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, but said he did so at the request of the US.
A spokesman for Netanyahu said that the prime minister had updated the Blue and White ministers shortly before the news went public in a tweet from US President Donald Trump Thursday afternoon. US officials have acknowledged the deal was in the works for weeks.
Hebrew media reported that Gantz, who also carries the title of alternate prime minister, learned first of the agreement when Netanyahu abruptly left a Thursday afternoon meeting of the so-called coronavirus cabinet declaring, “You will find out why afterward.” In a subsequent televised address on the agreement, he explained that he had held a 16-minute call with Trump and UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed.
After his statement to the press regarding the agreement with the UAE, several reporters asked Netanyahu why the Blue and White ministers had not been involved.
Netanyahu replied that he had not updated his coalition partners due to a request from the US. “They asked it be kept just between us so as not to jeopardize the deal,” he said. “I think that is legitimate, Many people, the Iranians primarily, would jump at any opportunity to blow it up.”
A Blue and White official told the Kan public broadcaster that while the party’s leadership is not pleased about having been left out of the loop, it is less concerned about the domestic political ramifications. Netanyahu, they reasoned, is not expected to gain very much from the announcement from his own camp, as it came at the price of suspending annexation plans.
The official also claimed that Thursday’s announced breakthrough could be partly attributed to Blue and White’s successful effort in blocking Netanyahu’s unilateral annexation plans. This successfully convinced the Trump administration that the move did not have broad support in Israel, he reasoned, leading Washington to change course and focus on bringing about peace deals between Israel and the Gulf States.
The establishment of formal relations with the United Arab Emirates opens the door “for additional agreements,” Ashkenazi said in a statement.
In a series of tweets he also welcomed the fact that unilateral West Bank annexation was suspended.
Kan also reported that sources in the government said the diplomatic breakthrough with the UAE may help stabilize the ruling coalition, with the move being a matter of consensus among the two major parties, while being a point of contention between Likud and the right-wing, modern Orthodox party Yamina, which is rising rapidly in the polls and threatening seats currently held by Netanyahu’s party.
Likud and Blue and White have been in crisis over the state budget, which must be passed by August 25 or Israel will again face general elections.
In a statement Thursday, Blue and White said it had held “good” talks with Likud on reaching agreements to keep the coalition from collapsing. “There has been progress and [representatives] have agreed to meet in the coming days.”
Netanyahu also said Thursday that there had been “progress” in talks with Blue and White.