Blue and White said willing to bend on annexation, but not on judge appointments

Sources in party quoted as saying Likud insistence on veto power over judicial nominations could see talks end without coalition agreement

Raoul Wootliff is a former Times of Israel political correspondent and Daily Briefing podcast producer.

Benny Gantz in Ramat Gan on March 9, 2020 (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Benny Gantz in Ramat Gan on March 9, 2020 (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The Blue and White party is reportedly willing to compromise on West Bank annexation in order to form a government with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud, which has demanded support for the move.

Likud’s insistence on veto power in the appointment of judges, however, could see the coalition negotiations blow up without agreement, the Kan public broadcaster quoted sources in Benny Gantz’s party as saying Monday morning.

Blue and White has been holding coalition talks with Likud on forming a government in which the two would rotate as premier, with Netanyahu serving first. The negotiations picked up pace after Gantz was elected Knesset speaker with the backing of Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc, causing Blue and White to split.

But the issues of West Bank annexation and judicial reform, both of which Likud favor, have been sticking points in the talks.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a tree planting event for the Jewish holiday of Tu Bishvat in the West Bank settlement of Mevo’ot Yeriho, in the Jordan Valley, February 10, 2020. (Flash90)

Netanyahu views West Bank annexation as a legacy-making move and has been adamant about seeing the election promise through before he hands over to Gantz, as scheduled under the tentative deal, in fall 2021.

Gantz, on the other hand, has long opposed unilateral annexation but recognizes that the right-wing bloc currently has a majority in support for the move, thanks to the votes of Telem defectors Yoaz Hendel and Zvi Hauser as well as Yisrael Beytenu’s seven MKs from the opposition. He therefore is hoping to influence the decision from the powerful position of defense minister, which he is slated to become, Channel 12 reported.

According to Channel 13, Gantz is prepared to accept a limited degree of annexation in order to reach a unity government agreement, but is not willing to agree to any move until after the coronavirus pandemic has ended, and is only willing to agree on annexation of settlement blocs located west of the security barrier.

The network also said that he is pushing for a guarantee that the move won’t be made unilaterally but rather as part of a broad peace initiative and in full coordination with the Defense Ministry, which he is slated to lead.

President Reuven Rivlin, center, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz shake hands at the memorial ceremony for the late president Shimon Peres at the Mount Herzl cemetery in Jerusalem on September 19, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Despite the ongoing negotiations, Gantz Sunday on said that he will likely seek an extension of his mandate to form a government — one that would make him prime minister first — which will expire over the Passover holiday. President Reuven Rivlin said he would consider the request, if filed, in light of the circumstances Gantz will present as the April 13 deadline gets closer.

Blue and White said that Gantz updated Rivlin on the talks to form “an emergency government and national unity,” but did not tell he president of any progress in the talks.

Gantz last week explained that his decision to pursue a unity government was due to a mixture of the pandemic crisis, the imperative to avoid a fourth round of elections and the threats to Israeli democracy, which left him no alternative but to abandon his promise to Blue and White voters through three elections not to sit in government with Netanyahu so long as the prime minister faces criminal charges.

He has therefore pushed for his party to receive control of the Justice Ministry, a move party sources say is necessary to protect the rule of law. The right-wing bloc has reportedly accepted the proposal for Blue and White to receive the portfolio, as long as its candidate for minister is agreed upon by both sides.

New Right MK Ayelet Shaked speaks during the Israel Social Cohesion Summit in Airport City on November 5, 2019. (Avshalom Shoshoni/Flash90)

On Sunday, Yamina MK Ayelet Shaked warned Netanyahu against appointing Blue and White’s Avi Nissenkorn, the current favorite to become justice minister, a position she once held.

“The meaning of handing over the Justice Ministry to the left is withdrawing control over the committee for appointing judges,” she wrote in a Facebook post.

“In the upcoming term, at least four justices will be appointed to the Supreme Court. This is a historic opportunity to formulate a conservative majority,” Shaked said.

To counter a justice minister from the center-left bloc of Blue and White and Labor, which is also in talks to join the coalition, the right-wing bloc has reportedly demanded that members of the judge-appointing committee come exclusively from the right.

Sources in Blue and White were quoted on Kan Monday morning as saying the issue of a Likud veto over judicial nominations could see the talks end without coalition agreement.

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