Blue and White MK Moshe Ya’alon, a hawkish former defense minister who once served under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is reportedly favoring a Benny Gantz-led minority government with the outside support of the predominantly Arab Joint List.
According to the Haaretz daily, Ya’alon has recently changed his mind about such a scenario after formerly opposing it and has expressed support for a minority government in two recent meetings, on condition that the hard-line faction of the Joint List, Balad, be excluded.
Ya’alon is Blue and White’s No. 3 and head of the relatively hawkish Telem faction within the centrist party. Blue and White head Benny Gantz reportedly accused two members of the faction of thwarting a bid to form a minority government which would be bolstered by the Joint List after the September elections.
On that occasion he was said to blame MKs Yoaz Hendel and Tzvika Hauser, two former aides to Netanyahu. It is unknown if they would align themselves this time with Ya’alon and join a minority government alongside the Joint List. The two denied on Tuesday that they were considering crossing the aisle and supporting a coalition led by their former boss.
Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party is expected to recommend to President Reuven Rivlin that Gantz be tasked with forming a government, according to Hebrew media reports Thursday neither confirmed nor denied by the party.
With Liberman’s backing, Gantz could receive more recommendations than Netanyahu, complicating Rivlin’s choice of whom to give first shot at forming a government.
Though neither mustered majority Knesset support in Monday’s election, Netanyahu has the backing of 58 MKs and his Likud is the largest party. But were Liberman and the entire Joint List of mainly Arab parties to recommend Gantz, he would have 62 backers. Even if the three-strong Balad faction of the Joint List chose not to back Gantz, as happened in September, the Blue and White leader would still have 59.
As of Thursday night, it remained unclear whether the 15-strong Joint List would endorse Gantz, as most of its members did following the September elections, or abstain. Yisrael Beytenu in September also declined to endorse a candidate. 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.
A Yisrael Beytanu spokesperson declined to comment on the reports or to confirm or deny that the party would recommend Gantz as prime minister to the president.
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 legislation that would prevent a person facing criminal charges from forming a government — effectively disqualifying Netanyahu from doing so, the Haaretz daily reported Thursday.
Liberman’s party announced its backing for the Blue and White bill earlier Thursday. Gantz’s party is also said to be seeking to oust Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein of Likud to ensure he doesn’t torpedo the bill.
After holding a faction meeting earlier Thursday, Yisrael Beytenu said in a statement that it had decided “to move forward with the promotion of two laws: The first law [will] limit the tenure of a prime minister to two terms. The second law [will] prevent an MK facing indictment from forming a government.”
The legislation is aimed directly at Netanyahu, who has served four terms as prime minister and has been charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three criminal cases against him; his trial is slated to begin on March 17.
“This is the first course,” Liberman told Yisrael Beytenu officials in internal consultations Thursday, according to media reports. “Now we wait quietly and let things develop. One thing is clear: We won’t let Netanyahu go to a fourth election. Our goal is to establish a government as quickly as possible and to send Netanyahu to his retirement.
“Even Likud members of Knesset who talk to me are telling me, ‘Well done for making this move.’ They want to see Netanyahu finish his term and leave [the PM’s residence on] Balfour [Street in Jerusalem],” he said.
Yisrael Beytenu joins MKs from Blue and White, Labor-Gesher-Meretz and the Joint List who have said they would back legislation barring Netanyahu from forming a coalition. If all members of the four parties support it, the law will pass with a majority of 62 votes in favor.
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.
After more than 99 percent of the votes were tallied, Likud and its allies had 58 seats combined. The right-wing religious bloc supporting Netanyahu — consisting of Likud, Shas, UTJ and Yamina — thus fell short of the 61 seats needed to form a government, and its rivals seem certain to hold a majority in the next Knesset. These figures were confirmed on Thursday by the Central Elections Committee, although they have yet to be officially authorized.
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.
It wasn’t immediately clear whether the plan to pass a law barring a person facing criminal charges from serving as prime minister was technically possible to implement, with some observers arguing that private member, non-governmental draft laws cannot be filed during a transitional government.
Blue and White is apparently convinced it is possible, and that it isn’t different from Likud proposing a law to dissolve the Knesset and call new elections, as happened last year.
Raoul Wootliff and Jacob Magid contributed to this report.