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Smotrich doing his utmost to set up right-wing government

Gantz vows to ‘do everything’ to prevent alternative government led by Netanyahu

Continued delays have stalled a bill to disperse the 24th Knesset amid long-shot opposition efforts to form an alternative government within elections

Defense Minister Benny Gantz with MK Bezalel Smotrich during a plenum session at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on February 28, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz with MK Bezalel Smotrich during a plenum session at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on February 28, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Monday he would “do everything” in his power to prevent a long-shot effort for opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu to form a new coalition in the current Knesset, believing that fresh elections are the better option for the country.

“I will do everything to prevent the formation of an alternative government in this Knesset under Netanyahu,” Gantz said at a press conference ahead of a meeting of his Blue and White party.

Asked whether he would agree to form a coalition with Likud if he led it, Gantz said that was not an option.

“I don’t currently see an alternative government in this Knesset,” he said.

“This government didn’t persist, but we proved we could work together,” Gantz added, referencing the cross-spectrum breadth of the outgoing coalition.

“I will do everything to ensure that after elections there will be a government with representation from across Israeli society,” he said.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz during a discussion and a vote on a bill to dissolve the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on June 22, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Merav Michaeli, leader of the coalition’s Labor party, echoed Gantz’s comments during her faction meeting, telling party members that “we’re heading to elections with our heads held high. We’ll do better in the next round.”

Labor is expected to hold primaries on July 18, and Michaeli, who currently enjoys the support of most of her party, is likely to be reelected as the party’s chairwoman.

“Our list will return to the Knesset larger and stronger and we will establish a government and a coalition that will continue the process of leading our country,” she said.

The comments by Gantz and Michaeli came amid continued delays that have prevented a bill to disperse the 24th Knesset from progressing amid long-shot efforts by the opposition to form an alternative government rather than call elections.

Earlier Monday, the leader of the Religious Zionism opposition party, Bezalel Smotrich, vowed to try and form an alternative, right-wing government within the current Knesset.

“We agreed in a meeting with heads of the opposition to do everything we can to delay the Knesset dispersal and establish an alternative government,” the far-right lawmaker said during a faction meeting.

Head of the Religious Zionist Party MK Bezalel Smotrich leads a faction meeting at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on June 27, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Meanwhile, Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman said that his Yisrael Beytenu party will not sit in a potential future coalition with Religious Zionism, which he described as “anti-Zionist.”

“We support the formation of a government composed of all the Zionist parties, from Meretz to Yamina,” he told a faction meeting of his party.

“Religious Zionism is an anti-Zionist party that advocates a halacha state. Nothing else,” Liberman argued, referring to a state governed by religious law.

“We will not sit [in a coalition] with [Haredi parties] Shas or United Torah Judaism in any way,” said Liberman, whose party is staunchly secular.

Addressing the expected cost of another round of elections, Liberman said the estimated expense for the upcoming expected elections is NIS 2.4 billion (approximately $700 million).

“I hope that whoever is responsible for this unnecessary expense will pay for it in the election,” Liberman said.

Last week, the Israel Democracy Institute said it estimated the elections would cost between NIS 2.54 billion ($733 million) to NIS 2.9 billion ($837 million).

Election day alone, which is a paid day off to enable citizens to vote, will cost NIS 1.5 billion ($438 million), according to figures from the Macro Center for Political Economics think tank.

Finance Minister and Israel Beytenu party chairman Avigdor Liberman speaks during a faction meeting at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on June 27, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Moshe Gafni, head of the opposition’s ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism, also said his party would work to help Netanyahu’s Likud party form a coalition in the current Knesset instead of having the country head to elections this fall.

Gafni’s office said the decision was made after he discussed the matter with the party’s spiritual leader, Rabbi Gershon Edelstein.

If Netanyahu’s supporters are unable to prevent the elections, Gafni said he would work to schedule the date as early as possible, potentially on October 25.

“MK Gafni just informed former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu that we will do everything possible to prevent these unnecessary elections and that if we do not succeed, then the date we agree on is Tuesday, the 30th of [the Hebrew month of] Tishrei — October 25, 2022,” a statement issued by his office read.

The date of the election is one of the sticking points in the negotiations between the coalition and opposition on the matter. The coalition prefers the elections be held somewhat later, on November 8, a few weeks after the Jewish high holidays. This would give Alternate Prime Minister Yair Lapid more time in his position.

The opposition is fighting to get the date set as close after the High Holidays as possible, on October 25, if it is unsuccessful in preventing elections altogether.

MK Moshe Gafni attends a Finance committee meeting, at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem on June 20, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A source in outgoing Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s Yamina party said Monday that the coalition and opposition were discussing final wrap-up items, such as setting a date for elections, deciding which pieces of legislation would be passed before the Knesset disperses, and the pace of the dispersal process.

Advancing legislation to disperse the Knesset depends on the House Committee greenlighting the measure, but the key parliamentary committee has yet to meet as of Monday afternoon, amid the continued delays and ongoing negotiations between the opposition and coalition.

Although 11 separate dispersal bills passed their preliminary readings on Wednesday with broad-based support, they have been stymied from advancing further until the House Committee meets. The committee chair, Yamina’s renegade MK Nir Orbach, who has allied himself with the opposition, first delayed the committee meeting from last week until Monday, and then repeatedly delayed the meeting throughout the morning and afternoon, in order to give the opposition more time to try to form an alternative coalition without resorting to elections — a process that has yet to bear fruit.

The chairman of the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, MK Gilad Kariv of the Labor party, said he would work to convene the committee as soon as possible in order to advance the legislation.

But as it stands, it seems like the Knesset will not be dispersed Monday evening as was initially expected.

The Times of Israel staff contributed to this report. 

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