Avidar on PM: 'Anyone with drop of self-respect would quit'

Blue and White, Yisrael Beytenu MKs vow to form government, say no 4th election

Asaf Zamir of Gantz’s party says it won’t break vow not to join a government with the Arab Joint List, but parties can cooperate on legislation both support

Blue and White MK Asaf Zamir at the Knesset in Jerusalem on May 14, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Blue and White MK Asaf Zamir at the Knesset in Jerusalem on May 14, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Lawmakers from the Blue and White and Yisrael Beytenu parties vowed on Saturday to form a government without Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu following the results of this week’s national election and claimed there would not be a fourth election despite the prospect of continued political gridlock.

Speaking on stage during an event in Modiin, Blue and White MK Asaf Zamir said: “This time, Gantz will swear-in a government.”

He did not say whether Blue and White would seek outside backing from the predominantly Arab Joint List for a minority government but expressed confidence his party would form a coalition.

He added that Blue and White would not sit in a government that includes the Joint List, but could work with it to advance legislation both back.

“We’ve always said we won’t sit in a coalition with the Joint List. I say again today, we won’t sit in a coalition with the Joint List,” Zamir said.

Zamir said working with the Joint List to pass laws supported by both parties, however, was “always an option on the table.”

The Blue and White MK did not specify what proposed laws both parties could back and whether this would include proposed legislation to bar a member of Knesset under indictment from leading a government — which would prevent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from assembling a coalition.

Speaking at the same event, Yisrael Beytenu MK Eli Avidar vowed there would not be a fourth round of elections and took a shot at Netanyahu after the premier’s Likud party and its right-wing religious allies again fell short of a majority.

Yisrael Beytenu MK Eli Avidar at the Knesset on April 29, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

“This is the third election campaign that [Netanyahu] has failed in and anyone with a drop of self-respect would quit already,” Avidar said.

He added: “The only option Netanyahu has at the moment is a plea deal.”

Avidar was referring to Netanyahu’s trial on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, which is set to open on March 17.

Netanyahu, who has been indicted in three separate cases involving suspicions he received illegal gifts and positive news coverage in exchange for political favors, denies wrongdoing and has dismissed the charges as a witch hunt by political rivals, the media, prosecutors and law enforcement.

The premier and his partners received 58 seats together in Israel’s latest elections on Monday, three short of a majority.

Though the other 62 lawmakers in the Knesset are deeply divided on key issues, they all oppose Netanyahu and could unite to unseat him.

However, it remained unclear whether the 15-strong Joint List would endorse Gantz — as most of its members did following the September elections — or abstain.

Gantz and Netanyahu both wrote about the Joint List in competing social media posts Friday.

After the Likud leader gave a speech at the Knesset implying the hundreds of thousands of Arab Israelis who voted for the Joint List were irrelevant, Gantz wrote: “Just as I expect world nations to respect Jewish voters in their countries, we will never dare say the votes of the 20 percent of Israel’s Arab citizens are worth less.”

And Netanyahu in a Facebook video said a Gantz government based on the support of the Joint List would be dependent on “terror supporters” and “a disgrace.”

He said he would hold emergency discussions Saturday evening on “stopping the vote theft.”

Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party in September declined to endorse a candidate, but is now reportedly inclined to back Gantz. The Joint List’s relations with Gantz have worsened in recent weeks, as Gantz emphatically ruled out seeking its support for a potential majority coalition.

Liberman’s reported move to back Gantz is also aimed at giving Blue and White control over the Knesset speaker position, allowing the opposition parties to advance the legislation that would block Netanyahu.

Yisrael Beytenu announced its backing for the Blue and White bill Thursday. With its backing for the bill, Yisrael Beytenu joined MKs from Blue and White, Labor-Gesher-Meretz and the Joint List who have said they would support it. If all members of the four parties support it, the law will pass with a majority of 62 votes in favor.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz at a memorial ceremony marking 24 years since the assassination of former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, in the Knesset on November 10, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Netanyahu on Thursday accused Gantz and Liberman of seeking to defy the will of millions of voters. Turkey’s authoritarian President Recep Tayyip Erdogan “has a lot to learn from them,” he said. “Even Iran doesn’t behave like this.”

Gantz proposed such a law after the September election, but it was struck down at the time by Liberman.

Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon on Wednesday said no legislation could be passed until a new parliament is sworn in. But Blue and White is reportedly planning to file the draft law only after the new Knesset is sworn in on March 16.

A similar law to the one being pushed by Blue and White, that would have ousted a premier facing an indictment, was supported by Netanyahu himself in 2008, when Ehud Olmert was facing corruption charges, Hebrew-language media reported. The law didn’t pass, but Olmert resigned before the charges were filed.

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