Gantz, in morning-after comments, wishes Israel a ‘good unity government’

Gantz, in morning-after comments, wishes Israel a ‘good unity government’

Blue and White chairman says he hopes politics will ‘calm down a little bit’ after vote, as preliminary results show his party deadlocked with Netanyahu’s weakened Likud

Blue and White party chairman Benny Gantz at party headquarters on elections night in Tel Aviv, early on September 18, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Blue and White party chairman Benny Gantz at party headquarters on elections night in Tel Aviv, early on September 18, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

In his first public comments the day after elections, Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz on Wednesday morning said he hoped for a “good unity government.”

“We’re waiting for the official results. For a long time we were busy with the campaign,” Gantz said as he was mobbed by cameramen while being driven from his home in Rosh Ha’ayin.

“I wish for the people of Israel a good unity government, that the [political] system will calm down a little bit and we can start moving,” he said.

Unofficial results, counting some 90 percent of the votes, showed the centrist Blue and White faction deadlocked with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud, and with neither the right- nor the left-wing bloc having a clear path to forming a ruling coalition without Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu.

A unity government encompassing the two major parties continued to look like the most likely way out of the impasse, though Blue and White has insisted that Netanyahu must leave if such a coalition is to be formed.

Liberman on Wednesday reiterated his insistence on a unity government comprising his party, Blue and White, and Likud, but said he wouldn’t start coalition negotiations with any party unless it accepts his list of demands for secularist policy changes.

Israel Beytenu party chairman Avigdor Liberman and his wife cast their ballot at a voting station in the settlement of Nokdim, during the Knesset elections on September 17, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Liberman laid out his demands — a wishlist including an ultra-Orthodox military draft, public transportation and commerce on Shabbat, Haredi secular education and other measures — and said he did not plan on speaking to any other party leaders until they meet his preconditions.

He also expressed unhappiness with a speech Gantz made in the early hours of Wednesday morning, which Liberman said did not address his secular issues.

“I didn’t hear clear statements,” Liberman said.

He also called the idea of forming a government that includes Arab parties “absurd” and said he would not sit in the government with the Joint List, an alliance of mostly Arab parties.

Joint List leader Ayman Odeh said Wednesday “it is possible that we will recommend Blue and White head Benny Gantz [to form the next coalition] to President Reuven.”

“However, we have clear conditions and based on them we will decide. We want to replace Netanyahu,” he told Army Radio.

Head of the Joint List party MK Ayman Odeh reacts as the first results in the Knesset elections are announced, September 17, 2019. (Basel Awidat/FLASH90)

In his speech following the release of exit poll results, Gantz said, “Of course we will wait for the real results. But as it looks now, we fulfilled the mission. And more importantly, we did it our way.”

He said he had already spoken to Labor head Amir Peretz and the head of the left-wing Democratic Union, Nitzan Horowitz, in a bid to start future coalition negotiations.

“I will also speak to Liberman, I intend to speak to everyone,” he said. “Starting tonight, we will start work on building a broad national unity government.”

He did not mention Netanyahu and his Likud party.

The next several weeks are expected to heavily feature coalition wrangling, as parties attempt to jockey to form a government.

In the last elections in April, Blue and White managed to tie Likud, but Netanyahu, who has been prime minister for 10 years, was given first chance to form a government but failed when Liberman refused to join unless a bill formalizing exemptions to mandatory military service for yeshiva students was passed as is, a demand flatly rejected by the premier’s ultra-Orthodox coalition partners. The mandate never passed to Gantz, with Likud instead engineering new elections.

President Reuven Rivlin, who decides whom to task with forming a government, has promised to do what he can to avoid a third round of voting.

Voter turnout on Tuesday outpaced voting levels from the elections earlier this year, bucking predictions of a drop in participation in the repeat poll. Turnout as polls closed was at 69.4 percent, up from 68.5% in April.

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