Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz on Monday said his party would be willing to consider compromising on some of its positions in the interest of forming a broad unity government alongside Likud and Yisrael Beytenu.
He also took a shot at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, calling on him to focus government-building negotiations on “what interests Israeli citizens — and not just what interests you.”
On Saturday, Yisrael Beytenu Avigdor Liberman presented a challenge to both Netanyahu and Gantz, saying that if either of them failed to back a unity government according to a proposal set out by President Reuven Rivlin and accept tough compromises in order to form a coalition together, he would walk back his commitment to a national unity government and support a minority government led by the candidate willing to compromise.
In essence, Liberman was demanding that Netanyahu sever ties with his so-called bloc of ultra-Orthodox and hard-right MKs and that Gantz allow Netanyahu to serve as premier first in a power-sharing deal.
Addressing members of the party’s Knesset faction Monday, Gantz characterized Liberman’s ultimatum to himself and Netanyahu as a positive development.
“I congratulate him on the very initiative aimed at preventing unnecessary, costly elections for the third time in a year,” he said.
And he said that in the interest of moving toward unity, “we will consider certain compromises as long as they correlate with our worldview and serve the State of Israel.”
He did not provide any further details on what those compromises might entail.
Liberman and Gantz were set to meet Tuesday to further discuss matters. And Gantz noted that the two parties have already reached some agreements on future government policy.
“We want to work for a broad government to express the will of the majority,” he said.
In a direct appeal to Netanyahu, Gantz claimed the premier was “refusing to discuss the essential issues that are plaguing Israeli citizens.” He urged him to work toward “direct, genuine and honest negotiations.”
Meanwhile Liberman, addressing a faction meeting of his Yisrael Beytenu party, said his party did not oppose any party joining the government but that Likud and Blue and White must agree on a coalition and its basic principles first. Then, he said, any party committed to those principles could join.
He suggested glibly that Netanyahu and Gantz should flip a coin if they cannot come to an agreement on the terms of a national unity government.
“What’s standing between a unity government and a third round [of elections] is a decision by Prime Minister Netanyahu to separate from his ultra-Orthodox-messianic bloc and a decision by Benny Gantz to accept the president’s proposal,” he said.
Liberman added that Yisrael Beytenu would vote for a unity government even if it did not include his party.
In a swift response to Liberman’s comments, Hebrew media quoted a statement attributed to associates of Netanyahu mocking the Yisrael Beytenu leader’s foreign origin and alluding to past corruption suspicions against him.
“Those suggesting a coin toss are forgetting they’re not in a casino in Moldova or Vienna.”
Liberman was born in Moldova in 1958. The mention of Vienna was presumably a reference to Austrian billionaire Martin Schlaff, from whom Liberman was at one time suspected of taking bribes.
In his Saturday announcement Liberman had implied that if Netanyahu refused to separate from his 55-MK bloc of right-wing and religious parties, he could support, from the outside, a minority government led by Gantz. Such an arrangement would see the hawkish right-wing leader allied with Arab party lawmakers, whom he has long accused of “disloyalty” and “terror support.”
The president’s unity government scheme would see power equally divided between Netanyahu and Gantz, who would each serve two years as premier.
In setting out his idea in September, Rivlin implied that Netanyahu would take an open-ended leave of absence if or when 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.
The 55-MK bloc has been a major stumbling block in talks between Likud and Blue and White, as has the latter party’s insistence it will not join a government led by Netanyahu so long as he is suspected of corruption.
The two major parties have regularly blamed each other for the lack of progress in negotiations and sought to cast the other as responsible if the country is forced to go to third round of elections.
On Sunday Liberman called into question the leadership qualities of both Netanyahu and Gantz for their failure to consider compromise.
“Netanyahu’s slander and accusations against me and others, as well as his inability to make one simple decision to part from the ultra-Orthodox-messianic bloc, raise a giant question mark concerning his leadership skills and the considerations that guide him,” Liberman said in a statement. “Benny Gantz’s ongoing stalling on a decision to accept the president’s proposal also raises tough questions concerning [his] leadership and decision-making ability in a critical period.”
Liberman has been seen as political kingmaker since a second election was called this year.
It was his refusal to join a Likud-led right-wing government after the April vote — over a disagreement with the ultra-Orthodox parties — that led to Netanyahu dissolving the 120-member parliament and calling fresh elections. In the September elections, he jumped from five seats to eight, further increasing his clout.
Gantz has until November 20 to form a government.