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Blue and White lawmakers meet representatives of Joint List

Gantz, Peretz press ahead with center-left coalition bid despite setbacks

Blue and White, Labor heads look to ‘harness all partners in political system’ – apparent reference to Arab-majority parties – to avoid 4th election; Liberman: No change on stance

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, left, and Labor party leader Amir Peretz meet to discuss coalition talks, on March 11, 2020. (Blue and White/Elad Malka)
Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, left, and Labor party leader Amir Peretz meet to discuss coalition talks, on March 11, 2020. (Blue and White/Elad Malka)

Despite the setback in recent days of three MKs from the center and left announcing they opposed a minority government dependent on the Arab-majority Joint List, the heads of Blue and White and Labor insisted they were still on track to form a government and oust long-serving premier Benjamin Netanyahu.

Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz and Labor party chairman Amir Peretz met on Wednesday morning, one day after Labor-Gesher-Meretz No. 2 MK Orly Levy-Abekasis declared she was opposed to the idea of a minority government backed by the Joint List of Arab-majority parties, and announced she was no longer beholden to her left-wing political partners.

In a joint statement Wednesday, Gantz and Peretz seemed to brush that setback aside and reaffirm their willingness to cooperate with the Joint List. They “agreed to continue their strategic partnership and to continue with efforts to form a government, harnessing all the partners in the political system to prevent Netanyahu and Likud from dragging the country to a fourth election,” the statement said.

In a subsequent Facebook post, Peretz said, “We’re continuing our efforts to form a new government as quickly as possible.”

While firmly backing Gantz — “Israel needs a new government…led by Gantz” — Peretz hinted he was open to a broader unity government of Blue and White and Likud together.

MKs Orly Levy-Abekasis (L) and Amir Peretz at the Labor-Gesher-Meretz post-election event in Tel Aviv on March 2, 2020. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

He said it was “important for me to clarify that despite developments” — an apparent reference to Levy-Abekasis’s announcement — “I have no intention of helping in the establishment of a narrow rightist government led by Netanyahu that stands opposed to my ideological worldview.”

He added: “Moments of decision contain challenges for all political parties. I am doing everything necessary to overcome them and to continue our work to deliver Israel’s citizens the government we committed to before the election.”

Neither Netanyahu’s Likud nor Blue and White mustered a majority of Knesset seats in last Monday’s election, and neither has a clear path to a majority coalition. The prime minister has the backing of 58 MKs and Likud is the largest party in the 120-seat Knesset.

Gantz, meanwhile, has been working to swiftly put together a minority government with the backing of the Joint List and avoid having to compromise on a unity government with the Netanyahu-led Likud.

Yesh Atid MK Ofer Shelah attends a Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting on April 30, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Blue and White lawmakers Ofer Shelah and Avi Nissenkorn met representatives of the Joint List on Wednesday.

Ahead of the meeting, Shelah told reporters in the Knesset, “The goal from our perspective is to reach a majority of MKs recommending [to the president] that Benny Gantz form the government, and to have a functioning Knesset starting this coming Monday.”

Ahmad Tibi of the Joint List tweeted after the meeting that the two sides “exchanged positions on the recommendation to the president and parliamentary issues.”

Ahmad Tibi (center) and colleagues from the Joint List arrive for talks with representatives of the Blue and White party, at the Knesset on March 11, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)

Tibi added that they would return to the party for consultations, but both sides “reject the campaign of incitement.”

Also on Wednesday, Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman said his party’s position on cooperating with the Joint List “has not changed,” amid reports he may agree to support a Blue and White-led government backed from the outside by the predominantly-Arab slate.

But, he said, “we are not obligated to provide Netanyahu with intel or calming pills. We will make decisions according to the national interest and our promises to voters.”

He added: “Netanyahu cooperated with [Palestinian leader Yasser] Arafat and Arab parties more than anyone else.”

Benny Gantz, right, and Avigdor Liberman shake hands after a private meeting in the central city of Ramat Gan, on March 9, 2020. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

Gantz is seeking a Knesset majority for a government made up of Blue and White (33 seats), the hawkish Yisrael Beytenu (7 seats) and dovish Labor and Meretz (6 seats without Gesher’s Levy-Abekasis), and support from outside of the coalition for most or all of the Arab lawmakers of the Joint List (15 seats).

Likud has attempted to portray the Joint List as out of bounds of Israeli politics, terming its members “terror supporters” and citing their opposition to Zionism and some extreme anti-Israel stances by members of Balad, one of the party’s constituent factions. Netanyahu last week declared the Joint List was not part of the “equation” when it came to coalition calculations.

A coalition backed by the Joint List, while “not the government we wanted,” is the only way to break the year-long political impasse, Blue and White No. 2 Yair Lapid argued in a Facebook post on Tuesday.

Such a bid remains a long-shot effort, however, as two right-leaning members of Gantz’s party, MKs Yoaz Hendel and Zvika Hauser, have openly rejected it and vowed to oppose it, and it remains unclear whether the Joint List and Blue and White could reach an agreement. One of the demands previously raised by the Arab alliance has been Gantz’s rejection of US President Donald Trump administration’s peace plan, which the former army chief of staff has endorsed.

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