Blue and White may pass a law freezing coalition-building for 6 months

With all of Gantz’s options to form government reportedly blocked, proposal would see centrist party back Netanyahu’s steps to curb virus while tightening its hold on Knesset

Then Blue and White leaders Benny Gantz (right) and Yair Lapid during a faction meeting at the Knesset on November 18, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Then Blue and White leaders Benny Gantz (right) and Yair Lapid during a faction meeting at the Knesset on November 18, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz is considering passing a law that would freeze the political situation in Israel for six months to deal with the coronavirus crisis, a report said Tuesday, after the party was said to be left without a path to a coalition.

Gantz was tasked last week with forming a government after 61 lawmakers backed him as prime minister, and he has a week left to do so.

Several Hebrew-language media reports on Tuesday said Blue and White’s leaders had ruled out forming a center-left minority government propped up by the outside support of the Arab-majority Joint List, since several MKs from the centrist party, including Zvi Hauser and Yoaz Hendel, object to that and have said they will vote against it under any circumstances.

The party has been holding talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party to form a unity government, and reports last week even said at one point that Gantz had already made the decision to join such a government under Netanyahu’s leadership, even if it meant splitting up Blue and White.

But Gantz backed away from that plan in light of angry reactions from his supporters, the Haaretz daily reported Tuesday, without citing a source. The report said he understood such a move would spell the end of his political career and wouldn’t give him much influence.

Even though both Netanyahu and Gantz talked up the option of unity on Tuesday, talks between their parties have halted in the last few days, Haaretz said, and no more meetings are expected soon.

Blue and White doesn’t have any alternative options for a government, since all the other parties in Netanyahu’s right-wing religious bloc are refusing to break their loyalty to the premier by even holding negotiations on the matter.

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)

The centrist party has publicly vowed not to join a government headed by Netanyahu, though it has said it could serve alongside another Likud chairman should Netanyahu, who is facing criminal charges, step aside. But Likud leaders have rallied behind Netanyahu despite the grave allegations against him.

Blue and White is also opposed to joining an “emergency government” with Likud just to battle the pandemic, believing it would be sidelined in such a coalition and preferring instead to let Netanyahu handle the crisis alone, for better or worse.

Therefore, with all of Gantz’s coalition options blocked and the coronavirus pandemic worsening by the day, the party’s No. 2, Yair Lapid, has reportedly started pushing for a creative solution: approving a law that would freeze the political situation for six months, after which all sides would continue efforts to form a permanent government from the same point they stopped.

According to the purported proposal, Blue and White would promise to support the government on any decision taken in the struggle to deal with the virus crisis, while taking control of the Knesset agenda and passing a law preventing anyone facing criminal charges from serving as prime minister.

In recent days, Likud and Blue and White have clashed over the latter’s bid to call a Knesset vote to replace parliament speaker Yuli Edelstein, a Likud member. Such a move would hand Gantz’s party control over the legislative agenda, including, possibly, passing a law that would bar Netanyahu from serving as prime minister. The High Court on Monday night ruled that Edelstein must hold such a vote by Wednesday. Likud has warned that if Edelstein is replaced, that would be the end of unity talks.

On Wednesday morning Edelstein resigned as speaker rather than call the vote on his own replacement.

A nearly empty plenum, due to restrictions against the coronavirus, is seen at the swearing-in of the 23rd Knesset, March 16, 2020. At left is Benny Gantz. Center, with back to camera, is Benjamin Netanyahu (Gideon Sharon/Knesset Spokesperson)

Netanyahu tweeted Tuesday that the coronavirus pandemic was a crucial time in which leadership and national responsibility had to be exercised, claiming the disagreements between the rivals regarding the specifics of a unity government are small and can be overcome.

“The citizens of Israel need a unity government that would act to save their lives and livelihoods,” he said, addressing Gantz. “This isn’t time for fourth elections. Let’s meet now and form a government today. I am waiting for you.”

After seeming to soften his position in recent days, Gantz said he was demanding he go first as prime minister in a rotating premiership deal.

“I have an expectation and a demand for a unity government headed by me, as the one who has [the support of] 62 Knesset seats,” he told activists from his party who had demonstrated outside his house, calling on him to form a unity coalition rather than a minority government propped up by the Joint List.

“There is some expectation to join [a unity government] under Netanyahu, as if that is the only alternative,” Gantz added. “I have overseen wars. We know how to handle national crises as well as they do.”

After gaining control over the Arrangements Committee, which determines which parliamentary committees will be formed and who will sit on them during a transitional government, the center-left bloc has formed six special parliamentary committees, including one to oversee Israel’s handling of the coronavirus crisis. Likud’s bloc boycotted all the votes on establishing those committees.

Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.

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