Deri vows to remain true to right-wing bloc as Gantz starts coalition efforts

Leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party claims Blue and White chairman is interested in President Rivlin’s unity compromise, but his No. 2 Yair Lapid is ‘torpedoing’ plan

Shas party chairman Interior Minister Aryeh Deri addresses supporters at the Shas party event for the Jewish new year in Jerusalem on September 24, 2019. (Flash90)
Shas party chairman Interior Minister Aryeh Deri addresses supporters at the Shas party event for the Jewish new year in Jerusalem on September 24, 2019. (Flash90)

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri said Thursday that his ultra-Orthodox Shas party would not break ranks with a right-wing bloc of parties loyal to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which have formed a united front in coalition talks with Blue and White.

Deri told Army Radio that a unity government solution proposed by President Reuven Rivlin is the most viable option for breaking an ongoing political logjam that has left the country without an elected government for nearly a year, despite two rounds of elections in April and September.

“We will not abandon the the right-wing bloc and the president’s scheme,” Deri said. “If the other side doesn’t accept that — we’ll have elections again.”

On Wednesday evening Rivlin gave Blue and White leader MK Benny Gantz the mandate to try forming a government after earlier this week Netanyahu told the president that, despite nearly a month of talks, he had failed to cobble together a majority coalition.

President Reuven Rivlin p(right) resents Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz with the mandate to form a new government, after Benjamin Netanyahu’s failure to form one, at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on October 23, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Netanyahu had negotiated on behalf of the right-wing and religious parties loyal to him, including Shas, without whom he says he will not enter a coalition. Blue and White has previously rejected this negotiation position outright.

Blue and White had also said it will not enter a Netanyahu-led coalition due to possible indictments against the prime minister in a trio of criminal cases, but on Wednesday Gantz invited Netanyahu and Likud to join him in a “liberal unity government.”

Deri accused Gantz of dallying instead of just agreeing to the unity government scheme proposed previously by Rivlin in which Likud and Blue and White would share power but Netanyahu would take a leave of absence to deal with his legal issues if he is indicted. Gantz would then take over, having full power as prime minister. The attorney general is expected to decide on whether to press charges against Netanyahu by the end of the year.

“We have wasted 28 days because of Gantz,” Deri said. “Netanyahu said we need unity, but Blue and White refused and didn’t pay attention.”

He said that Gantz is interested in Rivlin’s suggestion but that Blue and White No. 2, MK Yair Lapid, is “torpedoing it.”

“I don’t see any other framework other than the president’s plan,” Deri said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and Interior Affairs Minister Aryeh Deri at a press conference in Jerusalem, on December 3, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Deri also denied that he was refusing to meet with Gantz for talks, but said rather that he was maintaining the bloc’s position that Likud negotiators would speak for all the parties.

Immediately after receiving the mandate to form a government from Rivlin on Wednesday evening, Gantz began speaking with party leaders and inviting them to meet to negotiate their potential entry into the Blue and White-led coalition he hopes to establish.

Likud confirmed Wednesday that a meeting between Netanyahu and Gantz would be held in the coming days.

Netanyahu was initially tasked by Rivlin with trying to form a government based on the strength of his pact with right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties to negotiate as a bloc of 55 MKs of the Knesset’s 120 lawmakers after September’s inconclusive elections (Likud 32, Shas 9, United Torah Judaism 7, and Yamina 7).

Gantz heads a bloc of 54 MKs from the center, left and Arab parties (Blue and White: 33; Labor-Gesher: 6; Democratic Camp: 5; and 10 out of 13 MKs from the mainly Arab Joint List).

Like Netanyahu before him, Gantz now has 28 days to try and form a government, though the prime minister-designate is seen as being no more likely to accomplish the task.

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