Gantz calls Arab party leader, says he will form government ‘for all citizens’

Blue and White leader reaches out to Joint List, which provided key support in his successful bid to be tasked by president with cobbling together a coalition

Blue and White chair Benny Gantz (C) meeting with leaders of the Joint List alliance, Ayman Odeh (L) and Ahmed Tibi, October 31, 2019. (Ofek Avshalom)
Illustrative: Blue and White chair Benny Gantz (C) meeting with leaders of the Joint List alliance, Ayman Odeh (L) and Ahmed Tibi, October 31, 2019. (Ofek Avshalom)

Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz, who was tasked Monday with forming a coalition, spoke with the leader of the Joint List alliance of Arab-majority parties, telling him that he wants to establish a government that will serve all of the country’s citizens.

Gantz phoned the leaders of most parties in the Knesset upon receiving the mandate from President Reuven Rivlin to form the government.

In his call to Joint List leader MK Ayman Odeh, Gantz said his party intends to set up “a government that will serve all of Israel’s citizens,” Blue and White said in a statement. The party did not say if Gantz had invited the Joint List to join a coalition. The Joint List has never in the past been in the government.

Earlier, Gantz was given a cold shoulder from the three religious and right-wing parties, whose chairmen refused to meet him.

Aryeh Deri and Yaakov Litzman, who chair the ultra-Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism parties respectively, turned down Gantz’s telephoned request to sit down and work toward forming a government.

Also rejecting a meeting with Gantz was Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett, who conditioned such a sit-down on the Blue and White leader denouncing the support he received from the Joint List, who Bennett claimed are “supporters of terror.”

Warmer support was received from Labor-Gesher-Meretz chairman Amir Peretz and Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman, whom Gantz spoke with before arriving at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on Monday to be tapped with forming the government.

On Sunday, all 15 lawmakers in the Joint List gave their recommendation to Rivlin that Gantz be tasked with forming a government, giving him the 61-MK majority he needed to be for first shot at forming a government. But while giving Gantz its support, the Joint List specified that it would only back his efforts to form a center-left government that would replace Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and not any moves toward a unity government.

President Reuven Rivlin (R) tasks Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz with forming a government in a ceremony at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on March 16, 2020. (Mark Neyman/GPO)

Gantz, upon receiving the mandate to form a government from Rivlin on Monday, said he would strive to cobble together a “patriotic” and “wide” coalition “within days.”

He specified that the government he would form would “protect the interests of the residents of Judea and Samaria [West Bank] and the Arab citizens of Israel, of the residents of the periphery and those in the center.”

Without the 15 seats of the Joint List, Gantz’s bloc of center-left parties is smaller than the 58-seat bloc of right-wing and religious parties led by Netanyahu.

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