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Gabi Ashkenazi said set to quit Blue and White, as Gantz’s party crumbles

Top party source says FM isn’t involved in solving coalition crisis; Blue and White head says compromise with Netanyahu won’t include firing Justice Minister Nissenkorn

Benny Gantz (left) and Gabi Ashkenazi of the Blue and White party arrive to give a joint a statement in Tel Aviv on February 21, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
Benny Gantz (left) and Gabi Ashkenazi of the Blue and White party arrive to give a joint a statement in Tel Aviv on February 21, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi is about to bolt the Blue and White party in the highly likely scenario of elections being called by next week, according to a senior source in the party.

As Benny Gantz’s party loses more and more ground in opinion polls, two members of its parliamentary bloc, Yoaz Hendel and Zvi Hauser, have already announced they are quitting the party and then have been promptly fired from their government positions.

The party’s No. 2 could soon follow, a top member of Blue and White told Zman Yisrael, The Times of Israel’s Hebrew-language sister site, on Tuesday.

“Ashkenazi won’t want to be No. 2 or 3 in a crumbling party that is getting five or six Knesset seats in the polls,” the official said on condition of anonymity.

“We are seeing his behavior right now,” the official explained. “He isn’t involved at all in the whole political crisis, isn’t making constructive suggestions, isn’t saying a single word in the press in favor of Blue and White, and this is during a time of crisis with the party fighting for its existence.

“I assess that he is on the way out.”

Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi talks to the media at a news conference in front of the Liebermann Villa at the Wannsee Lake in Berlin, Germany, August 27, 2020. (Michele Tantussi/Pool Photo via AP)

The development came after the first Knesset plenum reading of a bill that would dissolve the government and call early elections was pushed off to next week, angering Blue and White, which is pushing the legislation.

The move by Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin, a member of Likud, is not aimed at preventing the dissolution of the parliament. Even without the bill, the Knesset is already on track to dissolve later this month due to an impasse over the state budget, which has long been held up by Likud. Moreover, Netanyahu is widely believed to be planning to dissolve the government anyway before the 2021 budget must be passed in March, in order to prevent a scenario in which, as stipulated by their power-sharing agreement, Gantz will succeed him as prime minister.

Lawmakers in the Knesset plenum on December 9, 2020. (Dani Shem Tov/Knesset Spokesperson)

Rather, Levin’s move is seen to be aimed at trying to thwart several clauses included in the Blue and White-pushed bill, which has a majority in the Knesset and has already cleared a preliminary plenum vote and been approved by the Knesset House Committee. It needs to pass three more plenum votes.

Blue and White has been demanding that a state budget be passed for 2020 and 2021 together — also as the coalition deal stipulates — in a bid to force Netanyahu to honor the premiership rotation clause. If Likud continues to resist those demands, elections will be triggered on December 23 at the latest and held three months later.

Gantz is reportedly still trying to reach a last-ditch compromise with Netanyahu regarding the budget and the future of the government.

However, Likud is said to be demanding that Netanyahu be given another “exit point” enabling him to dissolve the government without having to hand over the premiership to Gantz, and also that Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn be fired from his post due to his support for judicial activism.

Gantz said Wednesday that he would oppose the latter demand.

At a conference hosted by the Israel Democracy Institute, Gantz said he still hoped Netanyahu “will understand that going to elections is not what Israel needs right now.”

Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn seen during a visit at the Jerusalem Municipality on November 10, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

He said there wasn’t much time left and said a potential compromise would include a solution to the budget, but not removing Nissenkorn from the justice minister post.

“Avi is doing a great job in the Justice Ministry,” Gantz said. “We are committed to safeguarding democracy and the justice system and so the answer is very clear.”

Zman Yisrael previously reported that five of Blue and White’s current 14 members have been threatening to quit if Gantz ends up signing a deal with Netanyahu and delaying elections: Nissenkorn, Meirav Cohen, Asaf Zamir, Miki Haimovich and Ram Shefa.

“These people can no longer bear what is happening in this government and aren’t willing to embarrass themselves any longer,” the site quoted a politician who knows them as saying.

Then-Blue and White party members MKs Yoaz Hendel, Zvi Hauser seen in the Knesset in Jerusalem, April 29, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

On Monday, Gantz announced he was dismissing Derech Eretz lawmakers Zvi Hauser and Yoaz Hendel from their government posts, after the two said they would join Gideon Sa’ar’s new party after he split from Netanyahu’s Likud party and said he would seek to replace the premier.

“Hauser and Hendel have chosen their new political home and their time holding positions on behalf of Blue and White has thus come to an end,” Gantz said in a statement.

Hendel’s firing as communications minister was effective immediately. Hauser’s removal as head of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee will take a bit more time, as it demands a vote in the Knesset and the appointment of a replacement.

Gantz’s office said he would take over for Hendel as communications minister. He later said MK Eitan Ginzburg would become the new chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

Hendel and Hauser were originally part of Moshe Ya’alon’s Telem faction of Blue and White. When the alliance broke up earlier this year, with Gantz heading to the coalition and Ya’alon and Yair Lapid to the opposition, the two MKs broke away to form Derech Eretz and joined Gantz’s bloc in the government.

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