'He used up his political credit'

Gantz throws cold water on possibility of reuniting with Netanyahu

Defense minister calls for ‘broad unity government’ after elections, which Sa’ar predicts will result in renewed gridlock, with neither the ex-PM nor his rivals securing a majority

Defense Minister Benny Gantz holds a press conference in Tel Aviv on June 21, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz holds a press conference in Tel Aviv on June 21, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Tuesday appeared to rule out reuniting with opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu to form a new government amid intense jockeying among lawmakers as Israel moves toward snap elections following the coalition’s crack-up.

With MKs set to begin the process of dismantling the Knesset Wednesday, the opposition Likud party has continued to push the creation of a possible alternate government that would return Netanyahu to power without elections, teasing several possible partners who could be convinced to switch sides.

At a faction meeting of his Blue and White party, Gantz said his previous stint with Netanyahu was enough to put any thought of a partnership out of mind.

“Netanyahu used up the political credit that one can give him and therefore there’s nothing to talk about,” he told reporters after being asked about joining up with the Likud leader either during the current Knesset or following elections, which would be the fifth in three-and-a-half years.

Gantz formed a governing coalition with Netanyahu following elections in 2020, breaking his campaign pledge not to join a coalition with the then-premier due to his indictment on corruption charges. The government collapsed later that year after Netanyahu blocked the passage of a state budget, allowing him to go to elections without having to hand Gantz the premiership as part of their coalition agreement.

Following the next elections, Gantz joined the disparate power-sharing coalition led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, which has struggled to survive since losing its parliamentary majority in April. On Monday, Bennett and Lapid announced their intention to voluntarily disband their own government and send the country back to elections, with the vote expected in late October or early November.

“I’m sorry we weren’t able to maintain the government. It was worth fighting for until the last drop of our political blood, but that’s the way it is,” Gantz said Tuesday.

He also called for the formation of a “broad unity government” after the elections that includes both right-wing and left-wing elements.

“We are in the most severe political crisis that Israel has known,” Gantz said. “[A unity government] is the only possible solution.”

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu heads a Likud faction meeting at the Knesset on June 20, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

His comments came as sources in Netanyahu’s Likud party leaked to several Hebrew media outlets that it is still seeking to form an alternative coalition within the current Knesset, before the coalition manages to disperse parliament and initiate snap elections.

A source cited by the Ynet news site said Likud is seeking to convince Gantz to jump ship and join them. According to the Likud source, Netanyahu is now willing to let Gantz serve first as prime minister in a rotation deal in order to build trust with him.

“There are no contacts [with Likud], no discussions, nor is there anything to talk about,” Blue and White wrote in a tweet dismissing the report.

Earlier, Gantz sent a letter to Blue and White members urging them to reject any offers of cooperation that would prevent the Knesset from dissolving or block Lapid from becoming prime minister, according to the Kan public broadcaster.

“I beseechingly request you not cooperate or discuss various fruitless scenarios and to rebuff any offer that reaches you,” Gantz was quoted as writing.

Meanwhile, Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar predicted the new elections would result in further gridlock, with neither the right-religious bloc led by Netanyahu nor the former premier’s rivals securing a majority.

“Despite all his [media] spin, he will not have 61, just as he did after the previous election,” Sa’ar told Ynet.

The justice minister argued new elections were unavoidable, as a government cannot function with the backing of just 56 MKs. Several members of what was a 61-member coalition have recently refused to vote with the government on key legislation, leading to Bennett and Lapid’s announcement Monday.

Sa’ar, a former Likud minister, reiterated that he will not serve in a government led by Netanyahu.

Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar arrives for a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on June 12, 2022. (Yoav Ari Dudkevitch/Pool)

Also Tuesday, far-right MK Itamar Ben Gvir said he does not intend to seek to replace MK Bezalel Smotrich as the leader of the Religious Zionism party.

Ben Gvir is currently No. 3 on the party list after allying with Smotrich’s National Union party ahead of last year’s elections as part of a merger brokered by Netanyahu. However, Ben Gvir’s popularity has skyrocketed among right-wing Israelis since entering the Knesset.

While ceding the top seat to Smotrich, Ben Gvir told Army Radio that they will work together to form a list that better incorporates his extreme-right Otzma Yehudit party.

Far-right MKs Itamar Ben Gvir (L) and Bezalel Smotrich at the Damascus Gate outside Jerusalem’s Old City on October 20, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Recent polls have shown that Likud would be the largest party following elections, but would still struggle to form a majority coalition in the 120-seat Knesset, similar to the situation following four rounds of elections over the past three and a half years.

Bennett’s coalition, which only ever had a slim majority, ousted Netanyahu after more than a decade in power.

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