Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz said Sunday night there was “still hope that we’ll manage to avoid needless elections,” with three days left until the Knesset is automatically disbanded if no government is formed.
“I will make every effort, within the confines of the values that guide me, and without giving up my basic principles,” he said at a conference hosted by the right-wing Makor Rishon newspaper.
But Gantz once again rejected as “spin” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s push for a direct vote for the premiership — one that would leave the Knesset’s party makeup as it is.
And he added that he did not believe in “forgiving acts of corruption for certain political opportunities.”
Netanyahu is facing criminal charges, including bribery, fraud and breach of trust, in three cases.
Gantz said it was time to let go of partisanship in the interest of the greater good.
“I ask that we all stop concerning ourselves with ‘Yes to Netanyahu’ or ‘No to Netanyahu’ but rather look at what is at stake,” he said. “We are witnessing the death of pragmatism. Too many people are determining their positions based on when they’ve been told they belong to. The truth is the world is more complex.”
He said Israel was strong before Netanyahu “and will be so even after he leaves his post.”
In an apparent message to right-wing leaders other than Netanyahu, Gantz said one issue of agreement between political camps should be “opposition to any acts of corruption. It does not belong to any one side.”
In recent days, Netanyahu has repeatedly called for advancing a mutual defense pact with the US, citing a supportive US administration. Any potential defense pact is seen as highly controversial in the Israeli defense establishment, with officials concerned an accord on tighter defense cooperation could tie the hands of the Israeli military in certain undertakings, or at the very least limit its freedom to act independently.
Gantz said he took “a severe view of dragging security matters into campaign strategy. It is inappropriate.”
According to a Channel 12 report on Saturday, Gantz has told associates he is “ready to make tough decisions in the coming days” as a third round of national elections looms. It was not clear as to what those decisions would pertain.
The report came ahead of a December 11 deadline where, if no lawmaker manages to get the support of at least 61 members of the 120-strong Knesset to form a government, elections will be called.
According to the Channel 12 report, Gantz also told associates that in the event of another election, which appears likely, he would abandon a rotation agreement for the premiership with Yair Lapid, head of Yesh Atid, whose party is part of the Blue and White alliance. Lapid and Gantz reached the agreement in February ahead of the April elections and then into the September elections.
Both votes failed to deliver a government or break the political impasse.
On Friday, Gantz and Netanyahu traded accusations over the failure to reach a compromise unity government and vowed to defeat each other in a new election.
After neither secured a majority of seats together with their respective allies in the September election, both Gantz and Netanyahu expressed their support for a unity government including both of their parties, but talks between them have failed to result in a coalition and they have traded blame for the impasse. Last Tuesday, a meeting between Gantz and Netanyahu broke down after just 45 minutes.
In a video published on Friday, Netanyahu said his Likud party had offered far-reaching compromises, but “Blue and White, Benny Gantz have not budged, not a millimeter, not even a nanometer.
“And so, to my sorrow, we are sliding toward a completely unnecessary third elections that none of us want, but if they will be forced on us, we will win and win big,” Netanyahu said.
Gantz, meanwhile, blamed Netanyahu for the impasse, saying that while their many meetings in recent years had always been cordial, the one held earlier this week was different.
“This time Netanyahu came to blow up the proceedings. He’s not the same person I know, and I know him very well,” Gantz wrote in a Facebook post.
“Despite my hopes, Netanyahu did not offer anything new that would prevent unnecessary elections. He did not agree to give up immunity, his bloc (of 55 members of religious and right-wing parties), and of course he did not give up on his demand to be first in a rotation” of the premiership. (The reference to immunity relates to Netanyahu’s anticipated bid to seek immunity in the Knesset from prosecution in the three corruption cases.)
“Netanyahu did not win in April, he lost in September, and if he drags us there, we will defeat him in 2020,” Gantz vowed.
A recent poll showed Blue and White and Likud largely maintaining its current strength and little change in the makeup of the Knesset that has caused months-long political gridlock. According to the Channel 12 survey on Friday, Blue and White would win 34 seats (one more than it currently has), Likud would win 33 (also a one-seat boost), the Joint List alliance of Arab-majority parties would remain at its current 13, Yisrael Beytenu would keep its current eight, the ultra-Orthodox parties Shas and United Torah Judaism would each win eight seats, New Right on its own (outside the last election’s Yamina alliance with Jewish Home and National Union) would win six seats, while left-wing Labor and Democratic Union would each win five.