After repeatedly insisting during his campaign that he would never join a government alongside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Blue and White chief Benny Gantz on Sunday said he would consider it if a leadership rotation deal was reached that would see him be prime minister first.
Gantz, in an interview with the Ynet news site published Sunday, said that Netanyahu in May offered to include him in his government if he broke apart his electoral alliance with Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party.
“He wanted us to split up Blue and White and offered to bring us in under all kinds of conditions,” he said. “He offered me anything I wanted in return. But still, we stuck to our principles.”
Gantz added, though, that had Netanyahu “offered a rotation deal where I was prime minister first, then there would have been something to talk about.”
He added that he didn’t think that Netanyahu would “take the risk” of a rotation agreement, and said Likud members had tried to entice him to split up Blue and White and join their party on his own.
Gantz has repeatedly insisted over the last six months and two election campaigns that he would not agree to serve in a government alongside Netanyahu due to the pending corruption charges against the premier.
Later on Sunday, Gantz posted an apparent retraction of his statement on Twitter, writing, “Blue and White will assemble the next government that will call for unity, without Netanyahu. We cannot sit under a Netanyahu government.”
The Democratic Camp, a left-wing merger between Meretz, former prime minister Ehud Barak’s Israel Democratic Party and ex-Labor MK Stav Shaffir, blasted Gantz for his comments.
“Instead of looking reality in the eyes, with courage, and leading toward the change that is needed for the State of Israel and its citizens, Gantz is crawling toward a Netanyahu government that is destroying the rule of law and bringing an end to Israeli democracy,” the Democratic Camp said.
On Thursday, Likud lawmaker David Bitan said that Netanyahu hoped to include Gantz in his next government, but not Blue and White No. 2 Lapid.
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, the No. 2 in Likud, also signaled he would be willing to sit with Gantz.
The comments by Edelstein and Bitan confirmed a report from the Kan public broadcaster that the premier had told members of his party he would try to bring Gantz and his Israel Resilience party into a Likud-led coalition that includes ultra-Orthodox and national-religious factions after the elections on September 17.
Quoting unnamed Likud lawmakers, Kan said Gantz and his faction were considered to be the most likely figures in Blue and White to join a right-wing coalition.
Blue and White was formed ahead of the previous elections in April as a merger of Israel Resilience and Yesh Atid. The Telem party, which is led by former Likud defense minister Moshe Ya’alon and includes a pair of former Netanyahu aides, is also part of that electoral alliance.
Sources in Blue and White told the broadcaster in response to the report that it is in talks with Likud MKs about jointly forming a coalition without Netanyahu.
“Netanyahu’s plans will be met with the same answer he received when he turned to us before dragging us into the current election campaign — a negative answer,” the sources said.
Likud’s interest in bringing Gantz into a coalition comes amid reports of a rift among the top brass of Blue and White over Lapid’s campaign against ultra-Orthodox lawmakers.
“This is not an easy thing to say, but Yair Lapid is standing between us and victory in the elections,” a senior Blue and White source told Zman Yisrael, The Times of Israel’s Hebrew-language site, last week.
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