Gantz rules out coalition with Netanyahu, says he’s committed to replacing him

‘My door is firmly shut to Netanyahu,’ says Blue and White leader, who dodged questions in recent TV interviews when pressed on negotiations with Likud

Defense Minister Benny Gantz (C-L) and Prime Minister Benjamin (C) in the Knesset, in Jerusalem, April 6, 2021. (Alex Kolomoisky/POOL/Flash90)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz (C-L) and Prime Minister Benjamin (C) in the Knesset, in Jerusalem, April 6, 2021. (Alex Kolomoisky/POOL/Flash90)

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz on Sunday ruled out joining a government with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, telling lawmakers in his party that he is fully committed to the so-called “change bloc” that seeks to remove the Likud leader from power.

“My door is firmly shut to Netanyahu. Locked. I am committed exclusively to the change bloc,” Gantz said, following recent reports that he was again engaged in negotiations with Netanyahu on forming a coalition in direct violation of his campaign pledges.

Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, is fighting for his political and legal survival after the March 23 elections, as he struggles to form a government and is on trial for corruption charges. His official mandate to assemble a coalition expires on Tuesday night, though he can request a 14-day extension from President Reuven Rivlin.

Last month’s elections, the fourth since April 2019, ended in gridlock, with Netanyahu’s right-wing religious bloc again coming short of a ruling majority, in part because three right-wing parties ran with the declared goal of replacing him. After the previous elections in March 2020, Netanyahu agreed to a power-sharing deal with Gantz in which the two agreed to take turns as prime minister, but it dissolved in December after the prime minister refused to pass a two-year state budget, which meant elections could be called without the Blue and White leader becoming premier.

Benny Gantz speaks at a Blue and White party event on March 23, 2021. Flash90)

On Wednesday, a report said Gantz — who is defense minister and justice minister in the transitional government — has engaged in recent negotiations with Netanyahu to form a government, which would mean he was going against his pledge not to again form a coalition with the Likud leader.

Gantz equivocated when asked directly about it in three TV interviews, though he said he had concluded there was no benefit in working again with Netanyahu.

Gantz said Netanyahu had phoned him on Wednesday to once again offer him first turn as prime minister in a rotation agreement. But he also said he told the prime minister that this was “not possible.”

President Reuven Rivlin, right tasks Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with forming a new government, during a press conference at the President’s Residence, in Jerusalem on September 25, 2019. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

In its main news broadcast Friday evening, Channel 12 further reported that Netanyahu was only expected to ask Rivlin for an extension before his mandate expires Tuesday night if he is close to forming a government and can prove to the president a majority is in reach.

Barring an unexpected breakthrough by then, however, Netanyahu has no clear way of putting together a ruling coalition.

Rivlin, who as Israel’s president is tasked with mandating a lawmaker to form a government, can either give Netanyahu an extension, hand the mandate to another lawmaker or kick it to the Knesset for a 21-day period, after which fifth elections would automatically be called if no one forms a government.

If Rivlin does task another Knesset member with forming a government, it is widely expected to be either Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid or Yamina chief Naftali Bennett, who have been holding talks on forming a unity government without Netanyahu. Bennett has also been holding separate talks with Netanyahu.

A Bennett-Lapid government would be based on a rotation of the premiership between the two, according to Hebrew media reports. However, Bennett is said to be facing reluctance from within his own right-wing nationalist party to cooperate with Lapid, and some of his Yamina’s seven lawmakers may not agree to join such a coalition, which would require the backing of Arab lawmakers, Channel 12 reported. That would further hamper Lapid’s efforts to build a viable coalition.

AP contributed to this report.

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