Blue and White leader Benny Gantz met Thursday with Democratic Camp chair Nitzan Horowitz as the election’s would-be winners looked to secure support for their prospective premierships.
Gantz met Horowitz in Tel Aviv, and is reportedly planning to meet Labor-Gesher chairman MK Amir Peretz and Joint List head MK Ayman Odeh over the weekend.
The newly elected Knesset factions will begin a round of consultations with President Reuven Rivlin on Sunday, during which they will inform the president who they recommend he appoint as the next prime minister.
Blue and White emerged as the largest party in Tuesday’s election, with 33 seats to second-place Likud’s 31.
But on Wednesday, Likud leader Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gathered the heads of the religious-Zionist right and the Haredi parties at his Jerusalem office, hammering out an agreement signed by all the factions to conduct their coalition negotiations as a unified bloc of some 55 seats.
Gantz called the move “spin,” but could nevertheless have trouble cobbling together a coalition if the right-wing alliance sticks together.
Earlier Thursday, Gantz dismissed Netanyahu’s offer of a unity government that includes the religious and right-wing parties, insisting that the next coalition should have himself as prime minister, not Netanyahu, and be committed to liberal policies on religious issues.
Netanyahu had called on Gantz to join a government formed from his rightist “bloc,” pressuring him to drop his campaign promise of a “secular” unity government with Likud.
At a faction meeting Thursday afternoon, Gantz responded to the proposal: “The nation went to the polls and delivered a clear choice — the nation chose unity. Blue and White won the elections, Blue and White is the biggest party. I intend to form a broad unity government headed by me, which would reflect the people’s choice and our basic promises to the public and our priorities.”
Gantz added: “We won’t give in to an imposed [coalition]. To form a unity government, one doesn’t come with political ‘blocs’ and spin, but with seriousness and responsibility.”
Speaking immediately after Gantz, the party’s No. 2, Yair Lapid, took a more combative approach.
“Netanyahu is trying to drag the country to a third election,” he charged. “He’s simply unwilling to accept the results of the election. One person is preventing the formation of a liberal unity government. One person.
“That’s the aim of the bloc of extortionists and extremists he created yesterday,” he said. “That’s the aim of all the spin he’s throwing around in the last few hours. The public didn’t give him their support, so he’s trying to replace the public.
“If Netanyahu steps aside, we’ll have a unity government,” Lapid added. “A government with all those who believe we need civil marriage and public transportation on Shabbat. Without indictments and without corruption. And in light of what happened now, a government that will amend the election law so that it won’t be possible to drag us to new elections every three months.
“That’s what the majority of the public wants. That’s what they voted for. That’s why we’re the biggest party in Israel.”
Blue and White has repeatedly ruled out sitting in a government under Netanyahu, who is expected to face a criminal indictment in the coming months, pending a hearing. His political opponents warn that should he be named prime minister again, he would use the position to secure himself immunity from prosecution.
Referring to the pledge signed by Likud and the right-wing parties, a Gantz aide quoted by Hebrew-language media said Thursday: “Even they don’t trust Netanyahu to honor that agreement.”