Gantz: Blue and White will get 40 seats in the coming election
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Gantz: Blue and White will get 40 seats in the coming election

If realized, optimistic and previously unstated goal could break impasse that has caused three elections in a year; party is currently polling in the mid-30s

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Blue and White Chairman Benny Gantz (R) and party no. 2 Yair Lapid at an election event hosted by the Tel Aviv International Salon, Tel Aviv, February 17, 2020. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)
Blue and White Chairman Benny Gantz (R) and party no. 2 Yair Lapid at an election event hosted by the Tel Aviv International Salon, Tel Aviv, February 17, 2020. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

Two weeks away from the March 2 election, Blue and White leader Benny Gantz predicted on Monday that his party would get 40 of the Knesset’s 120 seats in the national vote, an unlikely result that, if secured, could break the ongoing impasse that has caused three elections in a year.

“We’re gonna take 40 seats in the next election,” Gantz said casually at the conclusion of an event for English speakers hosted by the Tel Aviv International Salon, in which he was interviewed alongside Blue and White No. 2 Yair Lapid. Blue and White has been polled of late as heading for a result in the mid-30s; it won 33 seats in September’s elections.

Most of the evening featured stump-speech responses to the questions posed by journalist Elliott Gotkine, with neither Gantz nor Lapid divulging much new information to the 1,000 people in the audience other than some personal anecdotes.

A poll released as Gantz was speaking showed his party increasing its edge over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud, but still falling far short of 40 seats, while another survey showed the gap between the two largest parties closing. Both polls, however, predicted continued deadlock, with neither the right-wing or center-left blocs gaining enough seats to form a coalition alone.

Lapid, speaking less often than Gantz but more enthusiastically and with slightly more polished English, said that Blue and White was ahead because the public wanted change.

“The government and the prime minister has been there for 14 years, and has lost sight of real people. This is why we are in politics,” Lapid said, presenting his party’s plan to improve the health and welfare systems.

Blue and White head Benny Gantz (right), with his party No.2 Yair Lapid, at an election event in Tel Aviv, Feb 17, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg / Flash90)

The Channel 13 poll showed Blue and White winning 36 Knesset seats, while Likud would come second with 33. The overall bloc of religious and right-wing parties supporting Netanyahu was projected to get 54 of the 120 Knesset seats, while the center-left bloc led by Blue and White chief MK Benny Gantz had 58 — including the mainly Arab Joint List, which has said it would likely to support a Gantz government.

A separate poll published Monday by the Walla news site similarly predicted a continued impasse, with the right-wing religious bloc at 56 seats, with 33 for Likud; and the center-left bloc at 44, with Blue and White on 34.

If final results after March 2 reflect the current polling, Blue and White would be hard-pressed to form a coalition, even if it finishes a number of seats ahead of Likud.

On Sunday, right-wing and religious parties renewed their pledge to back Netanyahu as prime minister. At the same time, Gantz over the weekend vowed that he would not invite the Joint List into any coalition he forms, if he wins the March 2 election.

Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman has ruled out any coalition with the ultra-Orthodox parties and Joint List leader MK Ayman Odeh has ruled out joining any government that includes Liberman.

Gantz on Monday said the deadlock was partly due to the electoral system used in Israel.

“Some changes need to be made,” he said. “I think we should move up the threshold to a higher level, so that we won’t have so many small parties. I think Israel would do better with four, five, six parties as most,” he said. The current  electoral threshold is 3.25 percent of the vote, and there are nine parties currently serving in the Knesset.

Blue and White head Benny Gantz at an election event in Tel Aviv, Feb 17, 2020. (Gili Yaari / Flash90)

Two previous elections, which both produced similar results to Monday’s polling, failed to break the political deadlock between the blocs led by Netanyahu and Gantz. Attempts by both the Likud leader and Blue and White chairman to form a unity government of the two largest parties have also failed.

But if Blue and White were to receive 40 seats, as Gantz predicted but the polls suggest is unlikely, and presuming Likud didn’t also surge, he would likely have a much stronger chance of receiving the mandate to form a government from President Rivlin, and possibly even succeeding.

According to a Blue and White source, speaking after Gantz’s declaration, “If we get 40 seats, we’ve won the election and we are forming the government. Everybody will understand that Gantz is prime minister.”

Ahead of the first election in April, Gantz had said, “If we have 40 seats, we are replacing the government.”

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