'It is not a security threat, but a legal one'

Day before election, Gantz says ‘the right is not in danger — Netanyahu is’

Blue and White leader dismisses PM’s pledge to extend Israeli sovereignty to West Bank settlements as ‘an electioneering stunt,’ vows to form ‘a cabinet of reconciliation’

Raoul Wootliff is the Times of Israel's former political correspondent and producer of the Daily Briefing podcast.

Blue and White party chairman Benny Gantz speaks during an election campaign event for the Blue and White party in Tel Aviv on April 7, 2019 (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Blue and White party chairman Benny Gantz speaks during an election campaign event for the Blue and White party in Tel Aviv on April 7, 2019 (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz on Monday dismissed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s assertion that “right-wing rule is in danger” in Tuesday’s election, saying it was only Netanyahu’s hold on power that was in a precarious position.

“The right is not in danger, Netanyahu is in danger. It is not a security threat, but a legal one,” he told Army Radio, citing the various corruption probes into the prime minister’s affairs.

Facing a possible indictment in three corruption cases, including one charge of bribery, Netanyahu has been rumored to be planning to condition, or tacitly link, entry to the post-election coalition he hopes to form on support for the so-called “French law,” which would shelter him from prosecution as long as he remains in office.

Netanyahu has denied seeking such legislation — he told Channel 12 on Monday: “There will be no French Law and no change to the immunity law. It’s all spin” — though many of his allies have touted it as a possibility.

“Do we want to allow Netanyahu to continue to celebrate? The French law? We’ll be the biggest party and the president will ask us to establish a government,” Gantz said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a statement to the press at his official residence in Jerusalem on April 1, 2019, ahead of upcoming elections for the Knesset. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Gantz also asserted that Netanyahu’s pledge to seek to extend Israeli sovereignty over West Bank settlements if reelected was not genuine.

“You can’t get excited about something someone throws out there a minute before elections, when he’s had 13 years to do it. It’s obviously just an electioneering stunt.”

Gantz said Israel needed to choose between “a direction of unity and connection and hope” and one of “extremism.” He vowed to form “a cabinet of reconciliation, with representatives from the [current] coalition and opposition.”

Asked what he would do if he loses the election, Gantz indicated he would remain in politics: “There is only one option, and from that you can deduce all possible developments: I’ve served Israel for 20 years and I plan to serve it for 10 more.”

The last days of the campaign have seen calls for Gantz’s political partner Yair Lapid to give up the pair’s agreement to rotate the premiership between them. Labor party officials have claimed such a move could win Blue and White an additional two-three seats from moderate right-wing voters who are wary of a Lapid premiership.

Gantz on Monday said no such action was planned, adding that he had “complete trust in Lapid.”

Netanyahu on Sunday held what he called an “emergency meeting” at his Jerusalem residence to warn faction members that the right-wing government was in real danger ahead of Tuesday’s elections.

Netanyahu told political allies he did not believe Likud had locked down majority support to be handed the task of forming the next government, and that the party must come out of the contest as the largest slate in order to ensure it continues to rule.

Blue and White party leaders Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz ahead of a press conference in Tel Aviv on March 21, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

“It’s not spin, it’s real. We have to narrow the gap, and I tell you that if it does not happen, Yair Lapid will be prime minister,” he told Likud leaders.

“We do not have 61 recommendations — the biggest party is what matters,” he said. He also claimed that the media was trying to “put Likud voters to sleep.”

In the 120-seat Knesset, at least 61 seats are required to form a governing coalition. Following the election, the president meets with all faction leaders and gives the task to the Knesset member he believes is best positioned to form a government.

Despite the expected majority for right-wing factions in the 120-seat Knesset, Netanyahu has pointed to recent comments by President Reuven Rivlin pondering how to choose who should get the first shot at cobbling together a government. The premier has said the president would choose whichever party is the biggest if no prime ministerial candidate has a sufficient number of recommendations from other party leaders to assemble a coalition.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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