'I did what my nation needs'

Gantz says he’s ‘at peace’ with decision, no other choice during virus crisis

First Druze female MK vows not to follow Blue and White leader into coalition with Netanyahu, ‘I came to politics to replace a racist government, not to be a partner in it’

Benny Gantz in Ramat Gan on March 9, 2020 (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Benny Gantz in Ramat Gan on March 9, 2020 (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Israel Resilience party leader Benny Gantz on Friday defended his shock decision to head toward a unity government with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, saying he was “at peace” with the move, even though it ruptured the Blue and White alliance he lead.

“I am more at peace today than ever,” he wrote in a Facebook post.

“I am at peace because I did what my nation needs,” he said, adding that he understood the hurt and anger of some of his supporters who saw the move as a betrayal.

“These are unusual times. Israel is in a state of emergency. Hundreds of thousands of families are hunkering down in their homes. There is a real sense of emergency in the face of a health threat that is taking human life and in the face the threat of economic devastation,” Gantz wrote.

“This is the time for leaders to choose what is right and put the lingering issues and personal scores aside,” he said explaining his decision to backtrack on an election promise to never serve under Netanyahu, who is charged in three corruption cases.

Gantz said that he, along with former IDF chief Gabi Ashkenazi, had decided that the only alternative was a fourth round of elections, which was not an option during the coronavirus crisis.

Gantz reiterated his praise for his former Blue and White partners Yair Lapid and Moshe Ya’alon, calling them “patriotic” and “principled,” but said they refused to acknowledge there was no other way forward.

Blue and White party chairman Benny Gantz (second left) with colleagues (from right) Yair Lapid, Moshe Ya’alon and Gabi Ashkenazi at party headquarters on elections night in Tel Aviv, early September 18, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Gantz’s now-former partners in the Blue and White alliance lambasted him on Thursday night, with Yesh Atid party leader Lapid excoriating him during a press conference with Telem leader Ya’alon for “crawling” into a coalition of “extremists and extortionists.” He said the former army chief had betrayed Blue and White’s voters, stolen their votes and handed them to Netanyahu. Despite his claims, Gantz was not entering a unity government, but had simply “surrendered” to Netanyahu, Lapid said.

Ya’alon joined in, saying Gantz was joining a government that “represents everything that we oppose” in a move that was “disappointing to say the very least.”

Gantz charged Friday that Lapid and Ya’alon were not being honest with voters.

“That said, if there are people who wanted and are still pressing to pull families who have lost their livelihoods and are riddled with anxiety about their health out to the polls again – have the courage to come out and state that clearly and openly,” Gantz wrote. “You know very well – there is no other alternative route, there was no other alternative route, and had there been, we would have taken it.”

Even as Blue and White split into three parties, there appeared to be discord within the factions, suggesting there could be further shifts.

Gantz appeared to win the support of MK Yoaz Hendel from Telem, who tweeted: “Leadership is measured in moments of crisis, the good of the country before political interests. That is the choice of Benny Gantz.”

However, Gadeer Kamal-Mreeh, the first Druze woman elected to the Knesset, vowed she would not join Gantz.

“Leadership and honesty are measured in times of crisis. A leader does not betray his principles and voters,” she wrote. “I came to politics to replace the racist, divisive government of the Nation State Law, and not to be a partner in it.”

Blue and White candidate Gadeer Mreeh (C) and party head Benny Gantz (R) attends a meeting with members of the Druze community of Israel in the city of Daliyat al-Karmel in northern Israel on March 7, 2019. (Jack Guez/AFP)

“I will not serve one day under the corrupt man from Balfour,” she said, referring to the Prime Minister’s Residence.

Gantz said he regretted the decision of his colleagues to split with him, but said he had no choice.

“I won’t be the one who didn’t make the effort to prevent the continued damage to the rule of law for at least another year.  I won’t be the one who doesn’t try to avert a fourth round of elections. I won’t be the one that categorically refuses to step in and pull my weight in a state of emergency,” he said.

The Blue and White party came together in 2019, formed of three constituent parts: Lapid’s Yesh Atid, which provided much of the party’s infrastructure having already run in several elections, and Gantz’s Israel Resilience and Ya’alon’s Telem, which were newcomers on Israel’s political scene.

“My colleagues and I will make every effort to form a national emergency government. We will take on the health crisis. We will extricate the country from the economic trauma it is experiencing, and we will try to heal the raw wounds of hatred that are tearing us apart from within,” Gantz said.

“Everyone is talking about campaign promises, but there is one promise that I will never break: Israel comes before everything else,” he said.

Gantz was handed the mandate to form a government earlier this month after three rounds of seemingly inconclusive elections, but appeared to have no clear path to forging a stable coalition. Both he and Netanyahu, who has run Israel for over a decade but is facing criminal charges, had publicly touted the need for a national emergency unity government in light of the coronavirus crisis, but neither had appeared to make any meaningful steps toward that goal before a Wednesday night phone call between the two.

Gantz was elected Knesset speaker Thursday evening as part of the emerging unity deal.

Benny Gantz (R) at the Knesset on March 26, 2020, after being elected Knesset speaker. (Knesset)

According to the reported deal taking shape, Gantz is set to partner with Netanyahu in a unity coalition, serving initially as foreign or defense minister and then taking over as prime minister in September 2021, though many political analysts doubt that such a rotation will actually take place.

The Yesh Atid and Telem factions filed a formal request to break away from Gantz’s party late on Thursday afternoon, leaving only Gantz’s Israel Resilience to join forces with Netanyahu’s Likud. Lapid had reportedly told Gantz he preferred that Israel go to fourth elections than see Blue and White partner with Netanyahu.

Gantz is expected to resign the speakership after a unity government is formed, to be replaced by a Likud MK, potentially even the previous Knesset speaker, Yuli Edelstein, who resigned from the position Wednesday in order to avoid having to carry out a Supreme Court order he disagreed with.

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