Gantz reportedly looking to form minority government with Liberman’s backing

Gantz reportedly looking to form minority government with Liberman’s backing

If tasked with assembling coalition, Blue and White chief plans to invite Likud to unity talks, knowing it won’t show up, and then move forward without majority support

Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz delivers a statement in Tel Aviv, September 26, 2019. (Avshalom Shoshoni/Flash90)
Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz delivers a statement in Tel Aviv, September 26, 2019. (Avshalom Shoshoni/Flash90)

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz is reportedly planning to invite representatives of Yisrael Beytenu and Likud to talks on forming a unity government if he is tasked with forming a coalition next week.

Gantz does not expect Likud to show up, however, which he hopes will open the door for Yisrael Beytenu’s Avigdor Liberman to let him form a minority government, according to a Thursday report by Channel 13.

Likud’s absence would give Liberman justification to blame Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s party for preventing the establishment of a unity government, the unsourced report said. Liberman would be able to say that one side, Gantz’s Blue and White, had accepted his blueprint for a unity government, while the other, Netanyahu’s Likud, had not.

Gantz would then aim to form a minority government that would secure a Knesset majority with the backing, from outside the coalition, of Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu and the Joint List of predominantly Arab parties.

There was no official confirmation of this or any other of this week’s welter of unsourced TV reports on the possible coalition machinations.

Netanyahu must form a coalition by October 24 or inform President Reuven Rivlin that he has failed to do so. By law, Rivlin could grant him a 14-day extension, but the president is believed unlikely to do so, as the prospect of the premier — who heads a 55-strong bloc (Likud: 32 seats; Shas: 9; United Torah Judaism: 7, and Yemina: 7) in the 120-seat Knesset — making further progress in the current gridlock is seen as slim.

Instead, Rivlin would then need to task another Knesset member with attempting to form a government — with Gantz the likely next candidate, though he is seen as even less likely to succeed in forming a government.

Both Blue and White and Yisrael Beytenu have called for a unity government alongside Likud but without the religious parties. Gantz’s party has also called for Netanyahu to step down as head of Likud due to a possible indictment pending against him in three corruption cases, saying it will not serve under a prime minister facing grave charges of criminal wrongdoing. Blue and White has said a unity government with Likud could be formed “within an hour” if Netanyahu steps down.

Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman (R) speaks with Yesh Atid chief Yair Lapid at the Knesset on November 16, 2015. (Miriam Alster/ Flash90)

The leading option for a coalition has been a proposal by Rivlin for a unity government in which power would be equally divided between Netanyahu- and Gantz-led blocs, with each of the two men serving two years as prime minister. Rivlin implied, but did not specify, that Netanyahu would take an open-ended leave of absence if he is indicted in one or more of the probes in which he faces charges. Under the arrangement set out by Rivlin, Gantz, as “interim prime minister” in such a scenario, would enjoy all prime ministerial authority.

Recently, the pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom daily has floated claims that Blue and White, which won 33 seats in September’s elections, could seek to create a 44-seat minority government supported from the outside by the Joint List (13 seats) and Yisrael Beytenu (8 seats).

But at no point since last month’s election has Gantz expressed any intention of forming the reported minority coalition with Labor (6 seats) and, possibly, the Democratic Camp (5 seats).

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz (L), President Reuven Rivlin (C) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) meet at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on September 25, 2019 (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Netanyahu on Thursday extended a new proposal to Gantz to join a unity government that includes the premier’s Likud party and his allies on the religious right.

The offer was quickly dismissed by Gantz as disingenuous, with the Blue and White leader saying Netanyahu “is not seeking unity but immunity,” in a reference to the prime minister’s insistence on retaining the premiership — allegedly so as to avoid having to step down if he is indicted.

The suggestion, made a week before the deadline for Netanyahu to form a coalition following September’s election, is based on Rivlin’s proposal for a power-sharing government. It would maintain the status quo on matters of religion and state for a year, while moving forward on a compromise for military conscription for the ultra-Orthodox — an issue that derailed efforts to form a government following April’s national vote.

Netanyahu did not offer to reconsider his insistence that the government include the ultra-Orthodox and hard-right parties — a major impediment for Blue and White.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) waves as he addresses supporters at his Likud party’s electoral campaign headquarters early on September 18, 2019. – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was waiting for results in the country’s general election, but that he was prepared for negotiations to form a “strong Zionist government.” He spoke as exit polls showed a tight race between his right-wing Likud and ex-military chief Benny Gantz’s centrist Blue and White alliance. (Photo by Jack GUEZ / AFP)

Gantz dismissed the proposal as “an offer I couldn’t not refuse.”
He added: “Even now [Netanyahu] is unwilling to engage in direct negotiations and to acknowledge the fact that the majority of Israeli citizens voted for a liberal unity government, without the extremes.”

A Thursday Channel 12 report said that Likud was seeking to tempt Gantz to break up his alliance with Yair Lapid to join a unity government with Netanyahu.

According to the report, Likud believes Gantz is more open to joining Netanyahu in a coalition than his partner and No. 2, Yair Lapid.

The network noted that Gantz is loath to accept the offer, and during a Thursday phone call with Netanyahu refused outright an offer to meet privately for talks.

Channel 12 also reported that Netanyahu has told associates that if Gantz forms a minority government he will not resign but stay on as leader of the opposition and try to topple the government as quickly as possible.

On Wednesday evening, Channel 12 reported that Gantz was warming up to the idea of serving in a coalition along with Netanyahu, despite having vowed not to do so during the election campaign.

According to that report, Gantz has been telling confidants that his party will “hold their noses for a number of months” and adopt Rivlin’s proposal for a power-sharing compromise.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit is widely expected to decide by the end of the year, and possibly as soon as mid-November, whether to indict Netanyahu in three criminal cases, following the completion of the hearing process for the premier earlier this month.

If Rivlin’s proposal is adopted and Netanyahu is charged, Gantz would only have to serve under Netanyahu for a month or two before the Likud leader takes a leave of absence.

“At the end of the day, Netanyahu has an expiration date,” Channel 12 quoted Gantz as telling confidants.

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