Ya’alon: Blue and White won’t join Likud-led coalition unless PM acquitted

Amid last-ditch coalition negotiations, senior party member says chairman Benny Gantz must serve first as premier in any power-sharing deal with Netanyahu’s party

Members of the Blue White political party Benny Gantz (L), Moshe Yaalon and Yair Lapid hold a press conference at the party headquarters in Tel Aviv, on April 10, 2019. (Flash90)
Members of the Blue White political party Benny Gantz (L), Moshe Yaalon and Yair Lapid hold a press conference at the party headquarters in Tel Aviv, on April 10, 2019. (Flash90)

Blue and White’s No. 3 Moshe Ya’alon said Wednesday that his party would not sit in a government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, unless the premier was cleared of the criminal charges against him.

Ya’alon — a former defense minister in Netanyahu’s Likud — made the comments after last-ditch coalition talks spearheaded by Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein (Likud) on Wednesday appeared to swiftly hit a dead end.

“I met today with Knesset Speaker and MK Yuli Edelstein in an attempt to prevent elections. I made clear that Blue and White is trying to form a unity government with the Likud, as we announced from the outset. We also made clear that we were ready to accept a rotation agreement for the premiership, on the condition that Benny Gantz is first,” Ya’alon wrote on Twitter.

“We will not sit in a government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu, unless a court acquits him of the serious charges against him. We will continue to strive for unity and do everything possible to avoid further elections, but we won’t stray from our values and our commitments to our voters,” Ya’alon said.

Likud in the past has insisted that any power-sharing deal with Blue and White see Netanyahu serve as premier first.

Edelstein earlier Wednesday invited coalition negotiators for Blue and White and Likud to meet with him in “a final attempt” to form a unity government. The negotiating teams for the parties met with Edelstein separately.

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein gives a press statement in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem on November 27, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

With two weeks still remaining for 61 MKs to recommend one of their number to form a government before the country is forced to go to an unprecedented third election in the span of a year, Edelstein lamented that “everyone seems to have given up, and we’ve gone back — too fast — to [campaign] slogans and election calculations.”

He warned: “Everyone understands that Israel is in the midst of a government emergency that could lead to economic and social collapse.”

Calling on Blue and White and Likud leaders to “choose between leadership and cowardice, between the will of the public, the entire public, and a tremendous crisis of trust,” Edelstein said the country had reached “the moment of truth in Israeli politics. There will be no other moment. This is the moment to say: Enough is enough.”

In a statement responding to Edelstein, Blue and White said, “We welcome the initiative of the speaker of the Knesset, as well as any dialogue that can advance a broad unity government led by Blue and White together with Likud, which will be based on common principles.”

The party said earlier that it was “making every effort to prevent unnecessary and expensive third elections, and will meet with the speaker of the Knesset today to discuss this.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a meeting of right-wing parties at the Knesset, November 20, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced charges against Netanyahu in three corruption cases last Thursday. An hour later, the prime minister held a press conference in which he accused prosecutors of seeking to oust him from power using false corruption charges in an “attempted coup.”

Netanyahu has vowed to stay in office while he fights the criminal charges, which include bribery, fraud, and breach of trust in one case, and additional fraud and breach of trust charges in another two cases.

Two rounds of elections, in April and September, failed to produce an elected government — a first in Israeli political history. The Knesset now has a December 11 deadline for lawmakers to agree on an MK to form a government, or parliament will be dissolved and third elections set, likely for March.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit holds a press conference at the Ministry of Justice in Jerusalem announcing his decision to indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, November 21, 2019. (Hadas Parush/FLASH90)

Since Likud’s Netanyahu and Blue and White’s Gantz each failed to form a government following the September 17 election, there has been some speculation that another candidate, such as Likud’s MK Gideon Sa’ar or Edelstein himself, would use the period until December 11 to gather the 61 signatures of MKs that would see them tasked with forming a coalition.

Channel 12 reported on Tuesday that covert negotiations were being held in an attempt to agree on a unity government despite the political impasse. The outline reportedly being discussed entails Netanyahu serving as premier for several months, then a Blue and White member — likely Gantz — taking over for two years, after which a Likud candidate would take over for the remainder of the term.

However, Yedioth Ahronoth reported that Netanyahu rejected this offer because Blue and White would not support granting him immunity from prosecution in three corruption cases.

Ya’alon heads the Telem party, which teamed up with Gantz’s Israel Resilience party and Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid to form Blue and White, ahead of this year’s first round of elections. He is considered to be further right on the political spectrum than most members of the centrist alliance. A former Likud member, Ya’alon and Netanyahu had a falling out in 2016, when the prime minister replaced him as defense minister, handing the post to Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman as part of a coalition agreement.

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