Blue and White, Likud trade blame for political impasse, warn 3rd elections near

Official in Gantz’s party tells Israeli TV that probe of PM’s aides for suspected witness harassment puts unity government further out of reach

Blue and White head Benny Gantz, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right. (Flash90)
Blue and White head Benny Gantz, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right. (Flash90)

Officials in the Blue and White and Likud parties reportedly warned Wednesday that Israel was on its way to a third national election in under a year, saying the chances of forming a unity government were increasingly slim.

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz was tasked last week with forming a government after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to do so following elections last month. Talks on assembling a unity government have failed to yield progress as the two largest parties remain divided on a number of issues.

A Blue and White official told Channel 12 on Wednesday that developments over the past week were making a unity government more difficult to achieve.

“Likud, which is sunk in witness harassment and demonstrations in Petah Tikva, isn’t enabling us to go to a unity government,” the unnamed official was quoted saying.

The official was referring to an investigation of Netanyahu’s top political aides for suspected harassment of a state’s witness in a corruption case in which the premier faces criminal charges, as well as protests near Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s home in support of the prime minister.

A Likud official, however, laid the blame for the political impasse on Blue and White, saying Gantz’s fellow party leaders were the ones calling the shots.

Prime Minister Bejnamin Netanyahu meets with heads of right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties in Jerusalem, October 23, 2019 (Likud)

“The continuation of the negotiations is a waste of time,” the Likud official told Channel 12. “The person we’re meeting with [Gantz] is not the one who decides.”

In addition to Blue and White ruling out joining a Netanyahu-led government over the premier’s legal woes, another obstacle in coalition talks has been Likud’s insistence on negotiating jointly with its religious allies, who agreed after the September 17 elections to only enter a government together.

Members of the so-called right-wing bloc, which includes Likud, two ultra-Orthodox parties and a pair of national-religious factions, told the Kan public broadcaster on Wednesday that Israel was on its way to third elections.

Despite these negative assessments, Gantz struck an optimistic tone about the potential for a breakthrough in negotiations.

“I cannot go into extensive detail about what came up during my talks with faction leaders, including those who comprise part” of the right-wing bloc, Gantz wrote Wednesday on Facebook. “I can only tell you that the picture being portrayed by the media is not necessarily accurate.

“I believe the first week is just the beginning of a process at the end of which a broad and liberal unity government will be formed that will serve all citizens of Israel,” he added.

If Gantz fails to cobble together a coalition during his 28-day window, which ends November 20, a majority of lawmakers in the 120-member Knesset could try to endorse any Knesset member — including Netanyahu and Gantz — as prime minister. A leader has never before been elected during that time period in Israel. If that fails, the country would be forced into the unprecedented scenario of a third election in under a year.

Gantz met Wednesday with Nitzan Horowitz, head of the left-wing Democratic Camp alliance, and was set to meet Thursday with Ayman Odeh, leader of the Joint List of predominately Arab parties.

Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz (L) meets with Democratic Camp chief Nitzan Horowitz on October 30, 2019. (Lior Mizrahi)

Likud has accused Blue and White of seeking to form a minority government with outside support from the Joint List. Gantz’s party has never expressed interest in such a scenario and a number of Blue and White MKs have ruled it out entirely.

Earlier in the week, Gantz met with Netanyahu for their first face-to-face since the Blue and White chief was tasked with forming a government. Gantz called the sit-down with Netanyahu “businesslike” but lamented that “unfortunately no tangible progress was made.”

Gantz also met this week with Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman, who is seen to play a critical role in the formation of a unity government and has insisted that such a coalition not include the Joint List, the left-wing Democratic Camp or any of the religious parties.

On Sunday, Likud negotiators met with their Blue and White counterparts, in their own inaugural effort to break the political logjam that forced Netanyahu to return the government-forming mandate back to President Reuven Rivlin last week.

In that meeting as well, no progress was reported, with Blue and White saying afterward that Likud representatives had refused to budge on their insistence that they would only join a government along with the rest of the members of their right-wing, religious bloc. Likud’s lead negotiator, Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, meanwhile said in a statement that Blue and White arbiters had refused to accept Rivlin’s unity government proposal, which would see Netanyahu serve first as premier in a rotational agreement.

That president’s unity government scheme would see power equally divided between Netanyahu and Gantz, who would each serve two years as premier.

Rivlin implied, but did not specify, that Netanyahu would take an open-ended leave of absence if or when he is indicted in one or more of the probes in which he faces charges. Under the arrangement set out by Rivlin, Gantz, as “interim prime minister” in such a scenario, would enjoy all prime ministerial authority.

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