Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz all but ruled out sitting in a Benjamin Netanyahu-led government, saying Sunday that the PM would likely put together a coalition aimed at safeguarding him from prosecution on corruption charges.
Speaking in a TV interview that aired days after leading his party to 35 seats, but without a path to form a coalition, Gantz was asked to categorically state that he would not sit with Netanyahu amid rumors Blue and White were looking to forge a secular unity government with Likud.
“As I see it, Netanyahu is going to put together a coalition that will be busy with fortifying his legal position and in the end will distance Israel from law and democracy,” Gantz told Channel 12’s “Uvda” investigative news program, referring to the indictments Netanyahu faces.
Netanyahu is a suspect in three criminal probes, dubbed by police cases 1000, 2000 and 4000, in which investigators have recommended graft indictments. Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced in February that he intended to indict Netanyahu in all three cases, pending a hearing.
Speculation has swirled that Netanyahu may use his newfound political strength after Tuesday’s election to advance legislation that would immunize him from prosecution as long as he remains prime minister, or try to utilize existing legislation to that effect. He is reported to be considering conditioning entry to his new government on a potential coalition party’s support for the so-called “French law” sheltering a sitting prime minister from prosecution. Netanyahu has publicly given mixed signals about whether he will seek such legislation.
Channel 13 reported Sunday that Netanyahu was considering appointing tourism minister Yariv Levin as justice minister if Likud keep the portfolio. Levin is known for his hard line toward the judicial system in Israel, believing it is dominated by liberals and far too activist.
Gantz said his party would in no way support such moves. “Our job as we see it is to boost the law and democracy in Israel for all the citizens, so sitting with Netanyahu is not an option.”
On Saturday, Blue and White No. 2 Yair Lapid denied reports that suggested covert talks were underway with Yisrael Beytenu’s Avigdor Liberman on a possible unity government together with the Likud and Moshe Kahlon’s center-right Kulanu party.
Reports in the Hebrew media in recent days said Lapid met with Liberman in Vienna to discuss joining forces for a coalition that would include the Likud’s 36 seats, Blue and White’s 35, Yisrael Beytenu’s five seats, and Kulanu’s four for an overwhelming 80 Knesset seats. This formation would leave out the ultra-Orthodox parties of Shas and UTJ and the Union of Right-Wing Parties to push forward with proposed legislation they strongly oppose.
In the interview, Gantz indicated that he would try to counter Netanyahu from the opposition.
“We won’t join a Netanyahu government, we will stay in the opposition and fight from there,” he said. “It’s the first week of the next ten years. I’m going to give it my all.”
He also said he was confident that Blue and White, a merger of several factions, would stay together in the opposition.
“First of all, let’s look at the magnitude of our accomplishment [in the elections]. This is truly unprecedented,” says Gantz, a former military chief, noting that they received 35 seats.
While acknowledging he would not immediately be moving to the Prime Minister’s Residence, Gantz expressed confidence he would be there in the future.
“One day, I will definitely be prime minister,” he said. “100 percent.”
Asked to reflect on what he would have done differently during the campaign, Gant’z said he regretted his “victory speech” after the exit polls came out.
“On the night of the election, I would have toned down the sense of victory by two notches,” Gantz said. “We wanted to project confidence and our appreciation to our supporters.”
The former IDF chief of staff gave a premature victory speech on Tuesday night after one exit poll showed his party poised to possibly unseat Netanyahu’s Likud, though two other exit polls predicted a fairly straightforward path to victory for the incumbent. Gantz vowed to “be the prime minister of everyone and not just those who voted for me… We all need to think about how we can work together, how we can bring everyone into the discussion.”
He was also asked if he had something to learn from Netanyahu.
“He knows how to run a good campaign,” Gantz conceded. “That, I would like to learn from him, but to go so low, to the depths he was prepared to go, in no way whatsoever. In these cases Netanyahu crossed the line.”
“Netanyahu, as prime minister can’t just work on two levels; first we win then we try and fix it. He has done even more now to divide the country.”
In his victory speech about two hours later on election night, Netanyahu said he would build a right-wing coalition, but would aim to be the prime minister of all Israelis, right and left, Jewish and non-Jewish.
Three days after the election and the day after Netanyahu’s decisive electoral victory was confirmed by a completed vote count, the Blue and White chairman phoned the Likud leader Friday morning to congratulate him.
Gantz indicated in what was apparently a very brief conversation that he had wanted to wait with the call until the Central Election Committee announced the final results, which it did late Thursday night.
“With the end of the vote count and the announcement of final results, I congratulate you on the achievement in the elections. We will continue to serve the citizens of Israel, and I wish you and all of Israel a happy [upcoming Passover] holiday,” Gantz told Netanyahu, according to a readout provided by a Blue and White spokesperson.
“Thank you, I wish you a happy holiday. We will restore calm to Israel, each in his own capacity. Have a good Sabbath,” Netanyahu responded, recognizing the heated nature of the campaign in a readout of the short conversation released by Likud.
The prime minister is expected to be tasked by President Reuven Rivlin with forming a coalition later in the week.