PM’s offer to Gantz: I lead 6-month emergency coalition, or 4 years and I go 1st

Netanyahu places cards on table, calling on Blue and White to join unity government; Gantz: Someone who wants unity doesn’t delay their trial at 1 a.m.

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

A composite image of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Benny Gantz at polling stations in Jerusalem and Rosh Haayin, respectively, during the Knesset Elections on March 2, 2020. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL, AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)
A composite image of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Benny Gantz at polling stations in Jerusalem and Rosh Haayin, respectively, during the Knesset Elections on March 2, 2020. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL, AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went public on Sunday with a pair of alternative offers for a unity government with Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz, urging the de facto opposition chairman to choose either to serve under him in a six-month emergency government or replace him after two years as part of a four-year rotational coalition.

“Faced with global and national emergencies, we must unite forces and establish a strong and stable government that can pass a budget and make tough decisions,” Netanyahu wrote in a Twitter thread.

He went on to detail the proposals he said he had once again sent to the Blue and White party earlier that morning.

The first option would be a half-year “emergency” government led by Netanyahu, during which Blue and White and Likud parties would receive an equal number of ministerial posts. For six months, the Likud leader would agree to refrain from firing any Blue and White ministers, and in exchange, MKs from the centrist alliance would be barred from supporting the toppling of the government in a no-confidence vote.

“At the end of this period [in September] we would return to today’s current situation,” Netanyahu wrote, meaning consultations would begin anew at the residence of President Reuven Rivlin, where on Sunday parties were submitting their recommendation for whom they want to form the next government and serve as prime minister.

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz (L), President Reuven Rivlin (C) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) meet at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on September 25, 2019 (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Alternatively, Netanyahu said he was prepared to discuss the idea of forming a four-year government, during which he would serve for the first two years as premier, with Gantz as his deputy, before they would switch places for an equal period of time.

The premier reiterated his call for Labor-Gesher-Meretz chairman Amir Peretz and Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman to join any government that would be formed.

“The State of Israel needs it. The people of Israel expect it,” he concluded.

Gantz said in response: “Someone who wants unity doesn’t delay their criminal trial at 1 a.m., and doesn’t send the media a ‘plan for emergency unity’ — but sends a negotiation team to meet. Unlike you, I will continue to back every right action of the government without any political consideration. When you’re serious — we’ll talk.”

Gantz had been seeking a Knesset majority for a government made up of his Blue and White (33 seats), the hawkish Yisrael Beytenu (7 seats) and dovish Labor and Meretz (6 seats without Gesher leader Orly Levy-Abekasis), with support from outside of the coalition from most or all of the Arab lawmakers of the Joint List (15 seats).

While senior Blue and White lawmaker Gabi Ashkenazi along with Gantz were reportedly warming to the idea of joining a unity government led by Netanyahu on Sunday, deep divisions remain among the centrist alliance’s leadership, with the No. 2 and 3 MKs, Yair Lapid and Moshe Ya’alon, still emphatically opposing the move.

Channel 12 reported that Ashkenazi and Netanyahu spoke on the phone late Saturday night, hours after the premier used the conclusion of a press conference on the coronavirus to call on Gantz, Peretz and Liberman to join him in a unity government in order for the country to be better equipped to tackle the outbreak.

It had previously been reported by Channel 12 that Ashkenazi was the strongest supporter of such a government, with Gantz also in his camp, but with Lapid and Ya’alon yet to come around to the idea.

From left: Yair Lapid, Benny Gantz, Moshe Ya’alon, Gabi Ashkenazi of the Blue and White party at its official campaign launch in Shefayim, July 14, 2019. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

“Blue and White are enlisted [in the fight] to eradicate the coronavirus, with no conditions or political consideration, [but we] cannot be complicit in the elimination of democracy in our country by a defendant running away from justice,” Ya’alon wrote in a biting tweet against Netanyahu, who had been scheduled to appear in court on Tuesday for the opening of his trial on bribery, fraud and breach of trust charges.

Earlier Sunday, Ya’alon accused the prime minister of exploiting the coronavirus outbreak for “personal political needs,” suggesting that the measures were being introduced in order to push off Netanyahu’s corruption trial, which was set to begin on Tuesday but was later delayed due to the virus outbreak.

“Whoever criticized us for warning we would turn into Erdogan’s Turkey should digest and internalize the cynical exploitation of the coronavirus, for personal political needs, by a defendant before his trial,” Ya’alon tweeted.

Blue and White party member Moshe Ya’alon during a campaign event on March 18, 2019. (Courtesy: Blue and White)

On Sunday, the Jerusalem District Court announced that the premier’s trial would be delayed by two months until May 24 after Justice Minister Amir Ohana declared a 24-hour “state of emergency” in Israel’s court system “as part of the national effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.”

The decision means that courts can only sit for urgent hearings on arrest and remand orders, administrative detention orders, offenses under legislation “relating to the special emergency” and certain interim relief in civil matters. Netanyahu’s case does not fall within the short list of exceptions.

Ohana is a vocal ally of Netanyahu and has become a frequent critic of the courts and the criminal cases against the prime minister.

Ohana’s statement came after Netanyahu and government officials announced a shutdown of all leisure businesses and activities throughout the country in order to prevent the spread of the virus.

Justice Minister Amir Ohana speaks at the Knesset on September 11, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

All educational institutions were shut down, regardless of the number of children per classroom, among them daycare centers — including home daycares — special education, youth movements and after-school programs. Save for supermarkets and pharmacies, all malls are closed. Restaurants and hotel dining rooms are also shuttered — aside from those that provide takeout — along with bars, pubs and dance clubs.

“For now,” people will still be allowed to go to work — though workplaces were encouraged to continue to prepare to facilitate work from home — but must maintain a distance of two meters from one another.

The number of Israelis diagnosed with COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus, rose to 200 on Sunday morning. The Health Ministry said two of the sick remained in serious condition, with 11 in moderate condition and the rest suffering light symptoms only.

Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.

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