MK Orly Levy-Abekasis of Labor-Gesher-Meretz called Friday for a national unity government amid the threat posed by the coronavirus pandemic, and said she did not plan to recommend any candidate for the premiership during consultations on Sunday.
Levy-Abekasis shocked the center-left camp this week when she announced that she would refuse to back a Gantz-led government supported by the Joint List of four predominantly Arab parties — potentially damning such an effort despite being a member of a largely leftist alliance of parties.
On Friday Levy-Abekasis wrote on Facebook that the virus “does not differentiate between people, positions, status or even borders.” Efforts to protect the lives of the citizenry thus necessitated all parties to work together.
“No excuse will justify standing by during this time of emergency,” she wrote.
At the same time, Levy-Abekasis told the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper she did not plan to recommend either Blue and White chief Benny Gantz or Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister when President Reuven Rivlin holds consultations with party leaders on Sunday.
In the coming days Rivlin must task a member of the Knesset with attempting to form a government following discussions with party representatives. Due to the virus threat and the state of emergency it has engendered, the president has said he will shorten the process to complete it in a single day on Sunday.
“I prefer to go to another election than to form a minority government backed by terror supporters,” Levy-Abekasis said, echoing the right-wing position against the Joint List, and particularly its Balad party. “I won’t recommend Gantz to the president, so as not to enable him to form a minority government supported by Balad.”
But, she added, “I won’t recommend Netanyahu either. If someone expects or thinks I will recommend Bibi, that’s not going to happen.”
Levy-Abekasis also pushed back against accusations from the left that she had betrayed and stolen left-wing votes by refusing to support Gantz.
She asserted that Labor-Gesher had given the Meretz party “a lifeline to the Knesset” and that the left-wing slate should “show some humility” as a result.
“We are the ones who saved them from failing to pass the electoral threshold,” she said.
Her claim was questionable, as Meretz secured four Knesset seats in April 2019 and five in September. Gesher fell below the threshold in April, while in September Labor’s alliance with Gesher failed to produce more seats than in April, with the party winning six in both races.
The combined slate won seven seats in this month’s vote.
Gantz has sought to form a minority government backed by Labor-Gesher-Meretz and Yisrael Beytenu, with potential outside support from the Arab lawmakers of the Joint List. But with Levy-Abekasis opposed and at least two rightist members of his own party also reported to be against the move, the math seemed to be against him.
Still, a possible breakthrough could be aided by, of all things, the coronavirus outbreak. Both Netanyahu and Gantz expressed willingness on Thursday to form an emergency unity government in light of the public health crisis, though their terms for such an alliance were not immediately clear.
The two spoke by phone late Thursday to discuss the possibility.
Israel has had three elections in less than a year, with the latest vote last week seeming to yield yet another deadlock, seeing both Netanyahu and Gantz short of a parliamentary majority.
Netanyahu told Gantz late Thursday that the two should begin talks on setting up a government immediately, according to Hebrew media reports early Friday, saying that leadership was needed given the threat.
However, he added that “terror supporters cannot be part of the government — not in regular times or in an emergency,” using a term often employed by his party to tar the Joint List or elements within the alliance.
In a short statement sent out by a spokesperson early Friday, Gantz said he had urged Netanyahu to have teams from each party begin negotiations as early as Thursday night “to look into the creation of a broad, national, emergency government in order to battle the spread of coronavirus.”
“I informed him, that in any case, I plan to help out with any activity related to the good of the public on this subject,” he added.
Gantz earlier said he was willing to discuss an emergency government, but added that it would have to include elements from all political sides, leading to speculation he was also insisting on the inclusion of Arab lawmakers.