Blue and White may oust 2 renegade MKs as Gantz-Liberman alliance moves forward

Gantz insists that only he calls shot in party, after report that right-wingers opposed to Joint List partnership may be booted; says he and Liberman agreed to work together

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Head of the Blue and White party Benny Gantz (R) and Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman speak to the press after their meeting in Ramat Gan on March 9, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Head of the Blue and White party Benny Gantz (R) and Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman speak to the press after their meeting in Ramat Gan on March 9, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz and Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman said Monday they would work together to form a government, as they wrapped up a meeting amid rampant speculation that their two parties were working to form a minority government reliant on outside support from the majority-Arab Joint List.

At the same time, two Blue and White MKs opposed to the formation of a government backed by the Joint List were told to toe the line or face expulsion from the party.

“We’ve just concluded a good meeting, where we discussed questions of fundamental principle and determined that we will work together to assemble a government that will pull Israel out of the political deadlock and avert a fourth round of elections,” Gantz told reporters at the Kfar Maccabiah hotel in Ramat Gan on Monday afternoon, with Liberman standing alongside him. “We’ll continue to discuss the details, formulate our common objectives, and move forward.”

Liberman added that a fourth election would be “the worst of all possible scenarios” and vowed to prevent such a development.

The two declined to delve into specifics or reveal the type of government they seek to form, and Liberman said no decision on the matter would be made before President Reuven Rivlin tasks a lawmaker next week with forming a coalition.

Blue and White chair Benny Gantz (C) meeting with leaders of the Joint List alliance, Ayman Odeh (L) and Ahmed Tibi, October 31, 2019. (Ofek Avshalom)

Earlier Monday, senior officials in Blue and White told Channel 12 that the two MKs from the centrist alliance’s right-wing Telem flank were going to be kicked out of the party due to their opposition to a Joint List-backed minority government.

MKs Zvi Hauser and Yoaz Hendel have been given an ultimatum: Back the formation of a minority government relying on the outside support of the majority-Arab Joint List, or resign from the Knesset, the network had reported earlier.

Though neither Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud nor Blue and White mustered a majority of Knesset seats in last Monday’s election, and neither has a clear path to a majority coalition, the prime minister has the backing of 58 MKs and his Likud is the largest party. But if Yisrael Beytenu and the entire Joint List of mainly Arab parties were to recommend to Rivlin that Gantz form the new coalition, the Blue and White leader would have 62 backers.

Even if the three-member ultra-nationalist Balad faction of the Joint List chose not to back Gantz, as happened in September, the Blue and White leader would still have 59 seats backing him if Hauser and Hendel fall in line.

Gantz has spoken on the phone with the chairmen of three of the four factions in the majority-Arab Joint List, Ayman Odeh, Ahmad Tibi and Mansour Abbas. Balad head Mtanes Shihadeh was not included on the call, according to a Blue and White statement, which said the Blue and White chairman relayed his intention to form a coalition “that will serve all citizens of Israel, Jews and Arabs alike, and prevent a fourth election.”

On Sunday, Telem faction chair and Blue and White No. 3 Moshe Ya’alon held a meeting in Tel Aviv in which he tried to persuade the rebel lawmakers to support a minority government, but the conversation reportedly turned heated, and yelling could be heard from the other side of the door.

Following his Monday meeting with Liberman, Gantz responded to the Channel 12 report suggesting Hendel and Hauser’s days were numbered. He said in a statement that while many opinions are allowed in the party, “The chairman is the one who decides, not ‘senior officials,'” referring to the unnamed sources behind the report.

Liberman had also vowed not to work with the Joint List, but appeared to soften his stance in the name of pulling Israel out of a year of political deadlock.

On Sunday, he laid out five preconditions for his joining a potential coalition, consisting primarily of a set of secularist demands that have no chance of being accepted by Netanyahu’s ultra-Orthodox allies but were quickly accepted by Gantz.

Blue and White party leaders, from the left, Gabi Ashkenazi, Benny Gantz, Yair Lapid and Moshe Ya’alon greet their supporters at party headquarters after the first results of the elections in Tel Aviv, Israel, Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2019. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

Likud has attempted to portray the Joint List as out of bounds of Israeli politics, terming them “terror supporters” and citing their opposition to Zionism and some extreme anti-Israel stances by members of Balad. Netanyahu said last week that their 15 seats were not part of the coalition-building “equation.”

To combat the perception that the Joint l;ist is beyond the pale, Blue and White is reportedly preparing to launch a media blitz to explain that in exchange for the support of the Joint List MKs, it will be agreeing to the same social-minded gestures to the Arab public that Likud has offered in the past.

It will then reportedly work to pass a budget before welcoming any other interested parties, including Likud, to join the coalition.

Under pressure from Likud, Blue and White repeatedly said during the election campaign it would not seek to form a government with the support of the Joint List.

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