Gantz: No idea if unity will succeed; will go to elections with ‘head held high’

Blue and White leader reportedly calls ultra-Orthodox leaders, complains Netanyahu not interested in forging a deal on emergency government

Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz delivers a statement in Tel Aviv, March 7, 2020 after receiving the mandate to form a government. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner, File)
Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz delivers a statement in Tel Aviv, March 7, 2020 after receiving the mandate to form a government. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner, File)

Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz said Friday he did not know if he would succeed in efforts to form a unity government with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but if he failed, he would head to elections with his head held high.

Gantz is conducting negotiations for forming an emergency government with Netanyahu’s Likud, a move that caused the centrist Blue and White party to split from former allies Yair Lapid and Moshe Ya’alon.

“Even today, I am unable to tell you if we will succeed in creating a government or not,” he wrote in a Facebook post. “I can tell you that my partners and I are doing everything needed and possible to achieve this, while holding to our principles so that our nation can emerge from one of the greatest crises since its founding.”

“If God forbid it is forced on us, we will go to elections with our heads held high because everyone in this country knows we did everything, but everything, for the state of Israel at a time of crisis.”

However, Gantz said he believed it would be “crazy” for Israel to be dragged into a fourth election in a little over a year as it deals with the coronavirus, noting that the money and effort would be better used if directed to the health system.

Meanwhile, Gantz reportedly called ultra-Orthodox party leaders, key members of Netanyahu’s bloc, to complain that the prime minister was not acting in good faith.

Gantz told Shas chairman Ayreh Deri and United Torah Judaism chairman Yaakov Litzman that “Netanyahu was not progressing in talks, and it would be a shame if the country is dragged toward a fourth election,” the Ynet news site reported.

Negotiators for the Likud and Blue and White parties met again Thursday evening in a continued effort to forge a unity government deal, as Gantz issued a tacit threat to resume legislative action against Netanyahu if a deal isn’t sealed soon.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right), Blue and White leader Benny Gantz and Chief Justice of Supreme Court Esther Hayut at the memorial ceremony for the late President Shimon Peres, at the Mount Herzl cemetery in Jerusalem, on September 19, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A joint statement sent out at 1 a.m. Friday said the meeting had ended and both sides had agreed to continue talks, indicating no deal had been reached.

As the renewed negotiations got underway some six hours earlier, a Blue and White statement said Gantz, who is Knesset speaker, had “informed faction members that he intends to have the Knesset functioning fully from next week, as is appropriate and as he vowed when he was elected Knesset speaker.”

This was understood as a threat — and was reportedly confirmed as such by Blue and White sources — that if a coalition deal is not approved by Monday, Gantz could advance legislation that would prevent Netanyahu from forming a government.

The proposed bill, which is projected to win majority support in parliament, aims to block anyone facing criminal charges from forming a coalition, effectively disqualifying Netanyahu.

President Reuven Rivlin informed Gantz on Thursday morning that his mandate to form a government had ended, after he failed to present a coalition to the Knesset by Wednesday’s midnight deadline.

Rivlin announced earlier this week he would not hand the mandate to Netanyahu, but would rather trigger the start of the 21-day period during which the entire Knesset as a whole may select a candidate to form a government. The move was widely seen as intended to force Netanyahu and Gantz to stop dithering and seal a unity deal quickly amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Gantz’s comments also came as his former partners savaged him for backtracking on his election promise and agreeing to work with Netanyahu.

Yesh Atid-Telem leader Lapid on Thursday proposed a six-month “political freeze” to prevent fourth elections as his ally Ya’alon said Gantz was unfit to serve as prime minister over his willingness to sit in a government headed by Netanyahu.

(From R-L) Blue and White party leaders Yair Lapid, Moshe Ya’alon and Gabi Ashkenazi attend a Blue and White faction meeting in Tel Aviv, on September 19, 2019. (Avshalom Shoshoni/Flash90)

Israel has been led by a caretaker government since December 2018, when the 20th Knesset dissolved. Since then, three consecutive elections have so far failed to yield a new government, marking Israel’s worst political crisis since its foundation.

“In light of the events of the past 24 hours, the embarrassing past month, the past year. I want to put forward a proposal to this house: Enough of the politics,” Lapid told the Knesset plenum on Thursday. “People don’t have enough food to put on the table. Businesses are collapsing. People are dying in hospitals. We need to solve the crisis of the lack of tests. We need to start to tackle the economic crisis because no one has really started to tackle it.

“In these circumstances, the creation of a corrupt and bloated government is a national disaster. The idea that we’ll get dragged to fourth elections is disturbing. It’s completely detached from reality,” he added.

“So I’m going back to a proposal I suggested before – a simple, clean proposal. To freeze everything for six months,” Lapid suggested. “In six months we’ll come back to the same situation. In those six months, instead of dealing with politics we will work to save the economy and the healthcare system and people’s lives. In those six months, the transitional government will continue. I think it’s a bad government but it won’t be able to do whatever it wants because we’ll control the Knesset. The Knesset will have teeth and it will have a majority.”

Also on Thursday, Telem leader Ya’alon attacked Gantz in an interview with Channel 12: “He naively thought he was making a sacrifice to help the country but he is finding himself facing cynical conmanship.”

“Netanyahu wants to guarantee he doesn’t end up in court,” Ya’alon said of the premier who is indicted in three corruption cases. “If instead of dealing with the coronavirus, [Gantz] hands Netanyahu immunity; there is no way to talk about him leading [the country].”

“Unfortunately, Gantz cannot be prime minister. What’s happening here is a collapse,” Ya’alon, who like Gantz is a former IDF chief of staff, said of Gantz’s decision to seek a coalition with Netanyahu.

Ya’alon said he and Gantz were still talking, and that he hoped Gantz was “slowly realizing where he has landed.”

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