The Likud and Blue and White parties swiped at each other Wednesday over who was to blame for the failure to form a government, as the Knesset debated a bill backed by the two parties to dissolve and go to elections for the third time in less than a year.
The deliberations came ahead of a midnight deadline for the Knesset to task a lawmaker with forming a government, after both Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu and his Blue and White rival Benny Gantz failed in their efforts to string together a coalition.
Gantz and Netanyahu have both pledged support for a unity government of their two parties, following elections in September that left both short of a majority in the Knesset together with their respective allies. They have bickered over the terms of such a government, however, and traded barbs over who is to blame for the impasse.
Netanyahu released a video Wednesday evening accusing Blue and White of “creating a flood of political spin,” after Gantz said the expected third elections were due to the prime minister’s efforts to seek immunity from corruption charges.
Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving premier, was charged last month in three criminal cases. He has been mum on whether he’ll seek parliamentary immunity, though his allies have voiced support for such a move. Reports earlier Wednesday said Netanyahu, who denies wrongdoing, was considering announcing he would forgo a request for immunity in a bid to shift onus for the political gridlock onto Blue and White.
“They want to hide the fact that they did everything possible to avoid the establishment of a broad national unity government that would annex the Jordan Valley, applying Israeli sovereignty over the communities” in the West Bank, Netanyahu said of Blue and White, while rattling off a number of campaign promises.
He said Blue and White “tried to do everything possible” to put together a minority government with outside backing from the Joint List of majority Arab parties, “and they failed too.”
According to Netanyahu, Blue and White “forced new elections on us.”
“There is only one thing to do and it is to win and win big — and that is what we will do,” he vowed.
Hitting back, Blue and White tweeted, “save a few lies for the campaign.”
Speaking at the plenary debate before the first reading of the bill to disperse the Knesset, Blue and White No. 2 Yair Lapid warned that the likely coming election campaigns will be “a hate and violence and disgrace fest.”
“Make sure you keep your kids away from the TV for the next three months, so they won’t see what the elected officials are saying,” he said. “What used to be a celebration of democracy has become a moment of shame for this building.”
“There are only three reasons for this election – bribery, fraud and breach of trust,” he added, referring to the criminal charges facing Netanyahu.
While expressing confidence Netanyahu could achieve a majority in a third round of elections together with his right-wing religious allies, Likud MK David Bitan warned the premier it would be his “last chance” as head of the party.
Asked what will happen if Netanyahu fails to deliver a majority, Bitan said, “I don’t want to get into that.”
Netanyahu is facing an internal challenge from Likud MK Gideon Sa’ar, who has said he could put together a government if chosen party leader. Likud’s top decision-making body was set to meet Thursday to approve leadership primaries for December 26.
Netanyahu is widely expected to beat Sa’ar in the primary, with sky-high support inside Likud despite the criminal charges against him.
A television poll published Tuesday had a Sa’ar-led Likud receiving four less seats than it would if Netanyahu heads the party. Overall, the right-wing bloc was forecast to fare better under Sa’ar than Netanyahu, but still come up short of a majority.
The same poll said a plurality of Israelis (41 percent) would blame him for the new elections, compared to just 5% who think Gantz would be at fault.