Gantz said to blame Lapid, right-wing flank in his party for coalition failure

Gantz said to blame Lapid, right-wing flank in his party for coalition failure

Behind closed doors, Blue and White leader reportedly lashes out against Zvi Hauser and Yoaz Hendel for blocking Arab-backed minority government

Blue and White's Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid during a faction meeting at the Knesset on November 18, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Blue and White's Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid during a faction meeting at the Knesset on November 18, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz has reportedly accused the right-wing flank of his party of thwarting a bid to form a minority government bolstered by the predominantly Arab Joint List, and said his partnership with Yair Lapid reduced the chances of a unity government with Likud.

“Because of Yoaz [Hendel] and Tzvika [Hauser], I am not prime minister, and because of Lapid, the chances of unity dropped,” Gantz was quoted by Channel 12 as telling associates on Wednesday on two occasions.

Gantz on Wednesday night informed President Reuven Rivlin he had failed to form a governing coalition, paving the way to a likely third round of elections in under a year. The centrist leader conceded defeat in a phone call with the president after unity talks with Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud and Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu broke down.

The Blue and White leader had openly sought a unity government with Likud. Reports indicated Gantz’s party had also explored the possibility of a minority government propped up by outside support from the Joint List of Arab-led parties.

Blue and White Knesset members Yoaz Hendel (L) and Zvi Hauser seen at the Knesset Plenary Hall, ahead of the opening Knesset session of the new government on April 29, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

But according to Channel 12, Blue and White MKs Hendel, a former Netanyahu aide, and Hauser, a former cabinet secretary who also served under the Likud leader, reportedly warned they would oppose such an arrangement.

The report also said the hawkish Liberman was not willing to join such a coalition due to his acrimony toward the Arab lawmakers, but would have abstained in no-confidence votes, effectively keeping it afloat. But Hauser and Hendel’s votes were needed to have an edge over Netanyahu’s 55-MK bloc of right-wing and religious political allies.

Gantz was also quoted as attributing the failure to his collaboration with Lapid, without elaborating.

Earlier Wednesday, Netanyahu urged Gantz to abandon his party’s No. 2, Lapid, and join Likud in forming a unity government. Likud has long accused Lapid of preventing the formation of a Blue and White-Likud coalition.

“I tell Benny Gantz, it’s not too late,” said Netanyahu. “Let’s sit together and we can announce already this evening that we are establishing a liberal nation unity government. I call on you Gantz: Get rid of Lapid’s veto. Do the right thing. Come to a unity government. You need to leave those who don’t want to do the right thing, and do the right thing.”

Rivlin had urged the rivals to form a unity government of Blue and White and Likud. He suggested a power-sharing agreement whereby, he indicated, Netanyahu would take a leave of absence if he is indicted in the three corruption cases pending against him. The attorney general is expected to announce charges against Netanyahu in the coming days.

But talks broke down over who would serve as prime minister first, Netanyahu’s insistence on negotiating on behalf of the bloc of 55 right-wing and religious lawmakers who backed him, and Gantz’s refusal to serve under the prime minister facing criminal charges.

Meanwhile, Likud was bracing for a possible challenge to Netanyahu.

Senior Likud party lawmaker MK Gideon Sa’ar speaks during the conference of the Israeli Television News Company in Tel Aviv on September 5, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Netanyahu had leaned toward calling for leadership primaries ahead of the last election, but backed away from the idea when rival Gideon Sa’ar declared his intention of competing whenever they would be held.

Ynet quoted sources in the Likud Wednesday as saying that Netanyahu wants to avoid primaries ahead of another election, but it was not clear if the party would accede.

With Gantz’s declaration of failure, the country’s year-long spiraling political chaos entered uncharted territory, formally laid out in law but never before exercised: Israeli lawmakers now have 21 days during which any 61 Knesset members can back any MK as prime minister, including Netanyahu or Gantz. If that doesn’t occur, Israel will go to unprecedented third elections in under a year, likely in mid-March.

The centrist Blue and White political alliance — composed of former IDF chief of staff Gantz’s Israel Resilience party, Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid, former defense minister Moshe Yaalon’s Telem party, and featuring former IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi — coalesced ahead of the April vote. In that election, it received 35 of the Knesset’s 120 seats, as did Likud. It ran on an identical slate in the September vote, picking up 33 seats, compared to Likud’s 32.

Hauser and Hendel are members of Ya’alon’s Telem party.

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