All 55 right-wing, ultra-Orthodox MKs attend emergency meet

Flanked by all his allies, Netanyahu again warns against Arab-backed coalition

Unfazed by Blue and White concerns that he is inciting violence, PM says Gantz is moving toward ‘a government supported by terror’

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

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) at a meeting of the 55-member union of his Likud party and other right-wing and religious parties, in the Knesset, November 18, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) at a meeting of the 55-member union of his Likud party and other right-wing and religious parties, in the Knesset, November 18, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

In his latest efforts to prevent Blue and White chair Benny Gantz from forming a minority government, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held an “emergency meeting” on Monday of the 55-member bloc comprising his Likud party and other right-wing and religious parties that have vowed to support him as prime minister.

While Netanyahu has held numerous meetings with the leaders of the alliance, Monday’s was the first attended by every MK belonging to the parties in the bloc: Likud, Jewish Home-National Union, New Right, Shas and UTJ, which he said represented the whole of Israeli society.

Repeating many of the statements he has made over recent days slamming the prospect of a minority government supported by the predominantly Arab Joint List party, Netanyahu told his fellow lawmakers that such a government would be “a real danger to Israel to the people of Israel.”

“We have met here for an emergency meeting because this is an emergency,” an emphatic Netanyahu told the assembled MKs in a crowded Knesset room. “Represented here are all parts of Israeli society because this is a fateful moment in the history of the State of Israel. There is a possibility that within 48 hours a government will be formed with terror supporters.”

On Sunday evening, Netanyahu’s Likud party organized an “emergency rally” that was similarly aimed aimed at “stopping the dangerous minority government that is reliant on terror supporters.”

There, the premier accused members of the Joint List of seeking to “destroy the country.” He claimed, without proof, that the Arab MKs support the Gaza terror organizations that Israel fought against last week.

Netanyahu has faced heavy fire for his comments, with members of Blue and White, the Joint List and others accusing him of incitement to violence against the lawmakers and of echoing the words of far-right extremists.

On Monday Netanyahu said that a minority government would be “a real danger to the people of Israel. We are talking about MKs who support terror, want to put soldiers on trial and have called for the destruction of Israel.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) at a meeting of the 55-member union of his Likud party and other right-wing and religious parties, in the Knesset, November 18, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, speaking after Netanyahu, said that a minority government supported by the Joint List would have blocked last week’s military campaign against the Islamic Jihad terror group in Gaza.

“If there was a minority government supported by counteragents of Israel last week, the 22 members of Palestinian Islamic Jihad we killed would still be alive,” Bennett claimed.

Citing past statement from Blue and White leaders claiming they had no plans to form a minority government, Netanyahu said they were “pulling a trick on their voters and pulling a trick on the public.”

Blue and White leaders have insisted they continue to seek a unity coalition but at the same time have not denied seeking a “transition government” if talks on unity failed.

Gantz has until Wednesday to clinch a coalition, after which Knesset members have a further 21 days to choose a candidate to be given the mandate or decide to head back to elections — the third in less than a year.

According to Netanyahu, Gantz is “moving decidedly forward toward a government supported by terror.”

“I told them to stop. I hoped they would. But they haven’t. They are saying it will just be a transitional government. I say we can’t have this for even one day. People don’t even understand how dangerous it is,” Netanyahu chided, adding that “a minority government will be supported by Hamas and Iran. They will celebrate in Gaza and Ramallah and Tehran.”

As the meeting of the bloc continued, leaders of the Blue and White party lambasted Netanyahu in their own faction meeting for “inciting” against lawmakers of the majority-Arab Joint List

Blue and White party chairman Benny Gantz (R) and No. 2 Yair Lapid at a faction meeting in the Knesset on November 18, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

“The words coming out of Netanyahu’s mouth in the past few days are incitement to violence. They are words spoken by followers of Baruch Goldstein, not by a prime minister. It will end badly. He knows it will end badly. He’s been there,” Blue and White No. 2 Yair Lapid said, referring to a far-right Jewish terrorist who massacred 29 Muslim worshipers in the West Bank in 1994.

“We received — every citizen in the State of Israel — an ugly and dangerous show of hypocrisy, lies and incitement right before our eyes,” said Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz.

Despite the accusations, Netanyahu said, “Not everything is lost. I think there is still hope. I had a meeting yesterday with [Yisrael Beytenu chair] Avigdor Liberman, a good meeting — and we will talk again.

“I can’t believe that Liberman would support a government like this, supported by terror supporters that want to destroy the country,” Netanyahu said. “A national unity government is what the country needs right now, and at this historic moment we have to choose between the curse and the blessing.”

At his own faction meeting, Liberman reiterated that the political solution he will be working toward over the next two days is a unity government.

“If by noon on Wednesday we have not reached an agreement then as far as I am concerned we have failed [at forming a unity government] and it’ll be every man for himself,” Liberman told reporters, seemingly leaving the door open for negotiations for a minority government during Blue and White’s final 12 hours to form a coalition before the midnight deadline later that day.

Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman speaks at faction meeting in the Knesset on November 18, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Asked about his meeting with Netanyahu on Sunday evening, Liberman said it was very “businesslike” and that they did not waste time discussing personal quarrels.

Notably, the Yisrael Beytenu chairman described his goal over the next 48 hours as the formation of a “national unity government,” dropping the word “liberal,” which he has used frequently in the past, and thus perhaps suggesting more flexibility toward the ultra-Orthodox parties.

Liberman refused to answer when asked which scenario he views as worse: the formation of a minority government or a third election.

Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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