Blue and White leader said planning emergency minority gov't

Gantz: Again and again, Israelis have ruled the Netanyahu era is over

Blue and White chief says he plans to quickly form ‘strong, stable government’; Liberman said to tell confidants once Gantz is tasked with forming coalition, PM will bleed support

Blue and White party chief Benny Gantz holds a press conference at Kfar Maccabiah on March 7, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Blue and White party chief Benny Gantz holds a press conference at Kfar Maccabiah on March 7, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Blue and White party chief Benny Gantz said Saturday evening he had “made a decision to form a strong and stable government” following Monday’s election and accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of encouraging “hatred and division” in the public.

Gantz said his government would work to “heal Israel of hatred and division and allow us to move forward.”

Speaking minutes after Netanyahu, in a press statement, accused him of attempting to “steal” the national vote, Gantz said: “Again and again Israeli citizens have ruled [that] the Netanyahu era is over.”

He said the prime minister “lost [the election]. The majority of the people do not want his continued rule, and that is what the people will receive.”

Monday’s election was the third in less than a year in which Netanyahu and the parties that support him failed to win a majority in the Knesset, but in which Gantz and his supporters also lacked a clear path of forming a coalition.

Head of Blue and White party Benny Gantz holds a press conference at Kfar Maccabiah on March 7, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

But Gantz asserted that “this time it will be different.” He said he believed he would be tasked by the president with forming a coalition and that he intended to do so quickly.

He added that contacts with various parties to a potential government were ongoing but due to their “sensitivity” he could not go into details.

Netanyahu’s Likud and the religious and ultra-Orthodox parties that support him won 58 seats in the election. Meanwhile the bloc of center-left parties and Yisrael Beytenu won 62 seats. But Blue and White and Yisrael Beytenu have said they will not form a coalition that is based on the backing of the Arab Joint List and its 15 seats.

Channel 12 news reported Saturday night that the current plan was apparently for Blue and White to form a minority government alongside Labor-Gesher-Meretz (totaling 40 of 120 Knesset seats), with outside support from Yisrael Beytenu (7) and the Joint List.

Gantz and his allies would frame such a government as an emergency government to end the political stalemate that has paralyzed Israel for nearly a year now, and one which would leave its door open to any members of Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc that wish to join.

Channel 12 also aired comments purportedly made by Liberman in closed conversations, in which he said there was “no chance” he would join a Netanyahu-led government, and saying “the most important thing right now is to ensure Gantz gets the mandate [to form a government].”

Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman seen at a conference at the Israeli Institute for Democracy, in Jerusalem, on February 24, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

He said once that happened, and Blue and White gained control of the Knesset committees and process, “things will start happening” — an apparent reference to possible defections from Netanyahu to Gantz.

The report said Liberman was furious over seven complaints filed against himself and his family during 2019 with police, prosecutors and tax authorities — which he believed were all done at the bidding of Netanyahu.

The prime minister in his action “crossed a red line,” he told confidants, calling it “a sin for which there is no forgiveness.”

Channel 12 noted that if Blue and White are tasked with forming a government and move to replace Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, the move will be irreversible as far as Likud is concerned: once confirmed, the speaker will not be replaceable — barring a new election — without 90 Knesset votes, an impossible task under the current conditions.

Netanyahu has attacked Blue and White for its purported intention to form a government based on some form of support from the Joint List, which the prime minister has characterized as “terror supporters.”

Gantz on Saturday mocked that message, saying Netanyahu had worked with the Arab parties on numerous occasions when it suited his political purposes, and could not now assail his rivals with claims they were doing the same.

He accused Netanyahu of fanning the flames of hatred and division in the Israeli public, and vowed not to let him “turn brother against brother.”

Prime Minister and leader of the Likud party Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement in Petah Tikva on March 7, 2020. (Jack Guez/AFP)

He accused the prime minister of silence in the face of incitement and violence on the streets encouraged by the public atmosphere he was fostering.

He said Netanyahu’s rule “has crushed all norms” and said the Israeli leader had become “drunk with power.”

Said Gantz: “We will not let Israel turn into a dictatorship… We will not be cowed.”

Later in the evening Gantz tweeted a photo of a Facebook status that called “to murder Gantz in Rabin Square” and wrote: “Netanyahu, stop the wild incitement. Don’t say you didn’t know.”

On Friday Gantz accused Netanyahu of inciting violence in the wake of the Knesset elections.

“The incitement to violence crosses every line. If we don’t wake up, the next political murder is around the corner,” Gantz wrote on Facebook hours after an anti-Netanyahu protester was assaulted.

He linked the alleged incitement to Netanyahu’s upcoming trial on graft charges and charged that the prime minister was disregarding the results of the elections.

“Netanyahu and his people are intentionally fueling violent and extreme discourse,” Gantz said. “Netanyahu is ignoring the election results and is prepared to burn everything on his way to avoiding trial.”

The premier’s Likud party said Friday it would petition the High Court to review the final tallies from Monday’s voting, claiming “errors in the recording and writing up of results,” without giving evidence. Netanyahu has also accused his political opponents of “trying to steal the election” with a bill that would bar a lawmaker under criminal indictment from forming a government, which would block him from assembling a coalition.

“Bibi [Netanyahu], we saw what happened when the incitement runs wild and no one stopped it in 1995,” Gantz said, referring to the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.

Netanyahu, who was opposition leader when Rabin was shot dead by a Jewish extremist, has been accused of contributing to an incendiary political climate ahead of the murder. The premier has strongly denied this, dismissing the allegations as “attempts to distort the historical truth.”

He also appeared to take a shot at Netanyahu for his attacks on the Joint List.

“We’ll respect all citizens of Israel, whether they chose me or not. Just as I expect the nations of the world to respect the Jewish citizens in their lands, we would never dare say that the votes of 20 percent [of the population] from Israel’s Arab citizens are worth less,” Gantz said.

He was referring to a Wednesday meeting in which Netanyahu divided the parties in the Knesset into right-wing and left-wing blocs, while saying the Joint List “is not part of the equation.”

Calling Joint List lawmakers “terror supporters” and “slanderers of IDF soldiers,” Netanyahu denied harboring any animus toward Arab voters.

Blue and White and Joint List leaders wearing phtotoshopped keffiyehs (Screencapture/Channel 12)

“But what they are trying to do here is form such a dangerous government to the State of Israel in complete contrast to the promises given to the voter,” he said.

Gantz’s Facebook post came after photoshopped pictures were posted on social media of Blue and White and Joint List leaders wearing Palestinian keffiyeh’s in the manner of Yasser Arafat.

It also followed the arrest of a man on suspicion of assaulting an activist for an anti-corruption watchdog while he was protesting outside the President’s Residence in Jerusalem against the possibility Netanyahu be asked to form the next government while under indictment.

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