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Gantz: Likud knows the right thing to do is form a coalition without Netanyahu

Ayelet Shaked calls on Blue and White to accept reported offer that would allow Netanyahu to serve as PM for 3-4 months before stepping down to focus on criminal cases

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz gives a statement for media in Tel Aviv, Israel, Saturday, November 23, 2019. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz gives a statement for media in Tel Aviv, Israel, Saturday, November 23, 2019. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz asserted Friday that lawmakers in the Likud party know that “the right thing to do” in the current political deadlock is to form a government without Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, leaving the premier outside politics as he faces three criminal indictments against him.

“Netanyahu has become a burden on Likud members, who among themselves as well as in my conversations with them understand that the right thing to do would be to form a unity government without him,” Gantz wrote in a Facebook post.

“If he is acquitted, he can serve for two years as prime minister,” the Blue and White leader added, referring to his party’s proposal that Gantz serve first as premier in a rotational agreement with Likud.

Likud has reportedly put forward a separate offer that is said to have gained steam in recent days. The deal would see Netanyahu serve as prime minister for three or four months before stepping aside — though remaining a Knesset member — in order to focus on defending himself in the criminal proceedings against him.

Parliament Speaker Yuli Edelstein meets with Jerusalem Affairs Minister Zeev Elkin and Tourism Minister Yariv Levin of the Likud party at the Knesset on November 27, 2019 (Flash 90)

According to Channel 13, Blue and White has so far rejected the proposal, concerned that Netanyahu will not honor the deal and step down. Moreover, the centrist alliance has rejected Likud’s demand that Netanyahu would be replaced by a fellow Likud member for the remainder of the first two years of the rotational agreement — and that only then would Blue and White take over.

Blue and White maintains that given it received the most seats in the September election, Gantz should serve first in any rotational agreement.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem on November 24, 2019. (Sebastian Scheiner/Pool/AFP)

The party’s No. 3 Moshe Ya’alon said Wednesday that Blue and White would not sit in a government led by Netanyahu unless or until the premier was cleared of the criminal charges.

New Right MK Ayelet Shaked issued a statement Friday urging Blue and White to accept the reported Likud offer. She called on Gantz’s party to “demonstrate responsibility” and accept the “very fair proposal.”

However, Likud MK Yariv Levin, who was reported to have been among the deal’s architects along with MK Ze’ev Elkin, denied having ever made such an offer in a Friday statement of his own. He called the reports “baseless.”

Earlier Friday, Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman published a list of demands regarding religion and state, saying they were the absolute minimum his secular party will demand in any negotiations to form a coalition government.

Liberman’s demands, detailed in a Facebook post, included passing a bill to draft members of the ultra-Orthodox community into the army; striking a law governing the operation of mini-markets on Saturdays; allowing public transportation on Saturdays at the discretion of each municipality; granting authority to municipal rabbis to carry out conversions to Judaism; allowing unlimited rights to civil marriages; and unfreezing a government-agreed plan for a pluralistic prayer area at the Western Wall.

A public transport minibus drives through central Tel Aviv on Saturday, November 23, 2019. (Tsafrir Abayov/AP)

“This minimum package is valid even today to anyone who is interested,” Liberman wrote.

Liberman stressed that he had published similar demands immediately after the inconclusive elections back in September. A notable difference appeared to be that Liberman was no longer demanding the ultra-Orthodox community implement the Education Ministry’s core curriculum in its own religious schools.

Liberman — who refused to join a Netanyahu government in May over disagreements with ultra-Orthodox parties on the military draft law of ultra-Orthodox students — has been pushing for a unity government of Likud, Blue and White, and Yisrael Beytenu.

Responding to Liberman in an statement, Shaked claimed that the gaps between Yisrael Beytenu and the Haredi parties were still bridgeable.

But “we are a step away from unnecessary third elections,” Liberman wrote and repeated his call for unity government.

Orthodox Jews try to prevent a group of American Conservative and Reform rabbis, and the Women of the Wall movement members, from bringing Torah scrolls into the Western Wall compound, during a protest march against the government’s failure to deliver a new prayer space, at the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City, November 2, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Two rounds of elections, in April and September, failed to produce an elected government — a first in Israeli political history. The Knesset now has a December 11 deadline for lawmakers to agree on an MK to form a government, or parliament will be dissolved and third elections set, likely for March.

Since Likud’s Netanyahu and Blue and White’s  Gantz were unable to form a government following the September 17 election, there has been some speculation that another candidate, such as Likud’s MK Gideon Sa’ar or Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, would use the period until December 11 to gather the 61 signatures of MKs that would see them tasked with forming a coalition.

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