Gantz tells confidants he could invite Netanyahu into his coalition

Gantz tells confidants he could invite Netanyahu into his coalition

‘The door is closed, but not locked’: In recording, Blue and White leader appears to walk back pledge not to partner with Likud so long as Netanyahu leads it

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

Benny Gantz gives a statement to the media in Tel Aviv, February 28, 2019. (Flash90)
Benny Gantz gives a statement to the media in Tel Aviv, February 28, 2019. (Flash90)

Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz has told close confidants that he would not rule out a unity government with Benjamin Netanyahu leading the Likud and the ultra-Orthodox parties if it means ousting Netanyahu from the prime minister’s seat.

On the night after Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced on February 28 he intended to indict Netanyahu in three corruption cases, Gantz convened a press conference, in which he announced that “given the circumstances,” his party would not sit with a Netanyahu-led Likud after the election. Blue and White officials said at the time that they would not rule out a coalition with Likud, but not if Netanyahu remained party leader.

But in a recording broadcast Monday evening by Channel 13, Gantz appeared to walk back that declaration — at least in a scenario where he, and not Netanyahu, becomes prime minister.

“I chose the words ‘given the circumstances’ [in the February 28 statement] in order not to completely close the door [on a coalition with Likud] and lock it. The door is closed, but not locked,” he told a group of close advisers, according to Channel 13.

He seemed to suggest a unity government would better deal with the fallout from a peace plan presented by US President Donald Trump after the April 9 elections.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and then-IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz at the Eshkol Regional Council in southern Israel, on September 22, 2014. (Edi Israel/Pool/Flash90)

“As we’ve seen, life is dynamic, the situation can change, Trump can present his plan, things will happen, I will win, Trump will present plans — what then?” he is heard saying in the recording, which the report said was made sometime in March.

He also is heard saying that replacing Netanyahu was worth making compromises to bring ultra-Orthodox parties into the coalition.

“What are we talking about? [Netanyahu] sold out the country! Sold out the country!” he says in an apparent reference to the prime minister’s corruption scandals. “Now he’ll pass the French law [granting him immunity from prosecution while in office], and I’m supposed to sit quietly, not to sell my soul for a coalition with the Haredim?”

He then tells his listeners that he feels strongly enough about the issue that he’d give the ultra-Orthodox a blank check on policies that matter to them.

Turning to an imagined Haredi party representative, he is heard saying in the recording, “I will send you an empty page signed ‘Benny Gantz’ at the bottom. Two-thirds of the page you can fill with whatever you want. Leave me one-third, I’ll put there what I want.”

Blue and White chief Benny Gantz during a campaign event on March 18, 2019. (Courtesy: Blue and White)

Gantz goes on to criticize Netanyahu for what he describes as a failure to capitalize on a decade of economic growth to invest in Israel’s future prosperity.

“This good situation, in which he’s relying on a good macro[economic] situation, has reached its end because Bibi [Netanyahu] didn’t follow through from a macroeconomic perspective on the advantages he himself created in ten years of rule,” Gantz is heard saying.

“He didn’t take the money he succeeded in creating with a wise macroeconomic [policy] and invest it in engines of growth like education and infrastructure, developing the periphery, in the right sort of education done right, he didn’t solve the problem of the health [budget] the way he should have. Bibi is leaving the place in a shambles.”

The criticism is a refrain from Gantz, who insists the country’s infrastructure is lagging behind its needs, and that Israel’s education system is failing to prepare the public for a high-tech future.

The recording was broadcast a few hours after Gantz, together with other leaders of his Blue and White list, accused Netanyahu of making millions of ill-gotten shekels in what he dubbed “the greatest security-related corruption case in the history of the State of Israel.”

Benjamin Netanyahu touring the INS Tanin submarine, built by the German firm ThyssenKrupp, as it arrived in Israel on September 23, 2014. (Kobi Gideon/GPO/Flash90)

Gantz called for a state commission of inquiry to probe Netanyahu’s alleged role in the so-called submarine affair, called “Case 3000” by police, which has ensnared several close associates of the prime minister, but not the premier himself, on suspicion they received illicit funds as part of a massive graft scheme in the multi-billion-shekel state purchase of naval vessels from Germany.

Speaking at a press conference in Haifa, Gantz said reports that Netanyahu has earned NIS 16 million [$4.5 million] off the deal were “unimaginable and hard to comprehend.”

“I hope they are not true,” said Gantz, but noted that Netanyahu was already facing other graft charges, pending a hearing, in three corruption cases and is “suspected of looking out for himself before the security of Israel.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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