Gantz says ‘in talks’ with Likud reps over unity government sans Netanyahu

Blue and White chief claims dissenting members of ruling party ‘getting ready for the day after’ PM

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz addressing party activists in Shefayim, July 14, 2019. (Jane Peimer)
Blue and White leader Benny Gantz addressing party activists in Shefayim, July 14, 2019. (Jane Peimer)

Launching his party’s official election campaign ahead of September’s national ballot, Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz said Sunday night that he was “in talks with Likud’s representatives” about the possibility of forming a national unity government without Benjamin Netanyahu following the election.

“Everyone understands the need for a broad and stable government,” the former general told a crowd of the party’s youth activists in Shefayim, a kibbutz on the coast.

“Lately, our people have been in talks with Likud representatives. We know that they are also getting ready for the day after Netanyahu,” he said, reiterating a claim that members of the ruling party are interested in dumping the prime minister due to the pending criminal charges against him.

“Even within Likud, some voices oppose Netanyahu’s actions. They too have internalized that Bibi only cares for Bibi,” Gantz told the crowd to applause.

Supporters of the Blue and White Party at the faction’s official campaign launch in Shefayim, July 14, 2019. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

A spokesperson for Blue and White declined to give details on who from each party had purportedly met, when or where, but said that the comments were “more straightforward than anything else said on the matter thus far.”

A spokesperson for the Likud party would not be drawn out on Gantz’s comments.

Last month it was reported that Likud officials were seeking a deal to form a unity government with Blue and White that would see the upcoming elections canceled. Gant’z centrist party, however, said that such a move would only be possible if  Netanyahu stepped down.

The Kan public broadcaster reported that senior officials from the Likud party have proposed to their Blue and White counterparts that the two parties form a unity government with Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz rotating in the role of prime minister.

Blue and White co-leader Yair Lapid said in response that the party would support calling off the September 17 elections and leading a unity government, but only if Netanyahu — who is facing an indictment in three corruption cases — steps down as prime minister.

On Sunday, Lapid, appearing immediately after Gantz, insisted that Blue and White aimed to replace Netanyahu, not prop him up.

From left: Yair Lapid, Benny Gantz, Moshe Ya’alon, Gabi Ashkenazi of the Blue and White party at its official campaign launch in Shefayim, July 14, 2019. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

“There won’t be a government that takes money from the middle class and that promises Netanyahu immunity,” he boomed into the microphone. “We’re here because we’re proud of this country, proud of what it has achieved, of the people who live here, of the IDF. You deserve a government that works for you. You deserve a prime minister who isn’t only focused on himself. We are your voice.”

Directly addressing Netanyahu while looking straight into the television cameras, Lapid said, “If you fill the country with hate, don’t tell us you love it. No one tears apart something they love. We can’t trust you anymore.”

Playing down the already agreed-upon rotation deal between Gantz and Lapid, Blue and White’s number 3, Moshe Ya’alon, said the elections were a binary choice.

“These elections are all about Bibi or Benny — Netanyahu or Gantz,” he said in a familiar monotone. “More and people understand that Netanyahu cares only about himself, and we at Blue and White are here to serve the citizens!”

During the last election campaign, the Blue and White party leaders ran under a rotation agreement that would have seen Gantz serve as prime minister for the first two years and eight months, and Lapid take over for the remainder of the term, had the party won the vote. The agreement was key to the merger of Gantz’s Israel Resilience with Lapid’s Yesh Atid.

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