Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz reportedly consulted with his party colleagues over the weekend on his political future, with officials in the centrist party giving him several more days to make a final decision on whether he intends to continue leading the party, merge with other parties, or quit politics altogether.
Gantz, the defense minister and “alternate prime minister” in the outgoing government, called a press conference on Saturday night and then canceled it, according to the Kan public broadcaster. Senior officials in the party told Kan they were waiting patiently for Gantz’s next steps, but warned: “If Gantz doesn’t make a significant change, it [the party] won’t survive.”
TV reports on Friday said Gantz remains committed to leading his nose-diving party, though he may not have many colleagues with whom to run, as multiple members of the centrist alliance are planning to jump ship or quit politics as the slate hemorrhages support in the polls.
The unsourced reports painted a picture of a party in disarray days after the coalition fell apart, ending the dysfunctional partnership between Gantz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and sending Israel to its fourth election in two years.
Senior lawmakers in the party, including Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn and Science and Technology Minister Izhar Shay have all decided that they will not remain with a Gantz-led Blue and White party, Channel 12 reported. It won 33 seats in March’s elections, but is polling at only 5-6 seats now, and many analysts believe it will fail to win any seats at all in the March 23, 2021 elections.
A large number of other lawmakers in the party are also looking elsewhere, the TV reports said, inquiring into the possibility of joining parties across the political spectrum — from Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid in the center, to Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope and Naftali Bennett’s Yamina on the right, though it is unclear whether any of these three parties is interested in taking them.
According to Channel 12, Gantz is prepared to merge Blue and White with another party, though, again, it is not clear whether Lapid, Sa’ar or Bennett would be interested in cooperating given the Blue and White leader’s vanishing public support.
Gantz entered politics two years ago, vowing to replace Netanyahu, merged his nascent Israel Resilience party with Yesh Atid to form Blue and White, and narrowly failed in three elections to form a coalition without Netanyahu’s Likud. While Gantz campaigned on the promise that he would not sit in a government with Netanyahu so long as the prime minister faces corruption charges, he agreed to do just that in late March, and formed a unity government with Netanyahu in May. Furious, Yesh Atid and a second minor faction broke away from Blue and White and went into the opposition.
Netanyahu and Gantz reached an agreement which was supposed to see Gantz replace Netanyahu as prime minister in November 2021, but a loophole in the agreement saw the coalition collapse due to Netanyahu’s refusal to pass an annual budget.
Israel is consequently now gearing up for a fourth election after the Knesset dissolved this week. But polls have made clear that Gantz has lost the support of almost all of the voters who got behind him in the past three national votes because he had vowed to replace Netanyahu. Hence many MKs in his Blue and White Knesset faction are reading the writing on the wall, and looking for alternatives.
According to Channel 12, Nissenkorn — one of the few members of the party who is believed to have maintained some of his popularity for his role as justice minister — has decided that he won’t run again with Blue and White. Channel 13 reported that he is considering offers to head the near-extinct Labor party, as well as the idea of joining forces with Lapid or Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, who has also expressed interest in entering national politics.
The justice minister has not ruled out the possibility of exiting politics altogether and this is an option reportedly entertained by Ashkenazi and Gantz as well, the TV reports said. Channel 13 also reported that Ashkenazi has been approached by Blue and White members with a proposal that he lead the party, but the foreign minister refused, saying he wouldn’t entertain the idea so as long as Gantz remains in the picture.
According to Channel 12, Gantz has been sending text messages to party activists seeking their help in convincing Nissenkorn not to bolt Blue and White.
Channel 13 also reported on Friday that Gantz has told confidants that he is “taking a few days” to consider his next steps, and then plans on making a public declaration.