Gesher’s Levy-Abekasis may not recommend Gantz to form government – reports

Lawmaker absent from party press conference, days after she said Joint List-backed coalition ‘violates basic norms and values’; Peretz says he hopes they can still coordinate

Labour-Gesher party co-chairwoman Orly Levy-Abekasis at a faction meeting at the Knesset on November 11, 2019 (Hadas Parush/Flash90 )
Labour-Gesher party co-chairwoman Orly Levy-Abekasis at a faction meeting at the Knesset on November 11, 2019 (Hadas Parush/Flash90 )

Labor-Gesher-Meretz MK Orly Levy-Abekasis is not expected to recommend Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz be tasked with forming the next government, senior officials in Labor told Channel 13 news on Thursday.

Levy-Abekasis earlier this week said she would refuse to back a Gantz-led government supported by the Joint List of four predominantly Arab parties, dealing a potentially fatal blow to the Blue and White chief’s chances of assembling a coalition to replace Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyanu.

She did not attend a Labor-Gesher-Meretz press conference on Thursday, during which the left-wing alliance’s leader Amir Peretz said he still supported forming a “narrow government” led by Blue and White that is backed by the Joint List.

“The move encountered difficulties in the parties. Orly Levy-Abekasis’s announcement increases the difficulties of executing this important move,” said Peretz.

Despite noting that there were hard feelings, Peretz said he was still in touch with Levy-Abekasis and hoped there would be “coordination on future actions with her.”

Labor-Gesher-Meretz MK Amir Peretz (C) and and remembers of the the left-wing political alliance at a press conference in Tel Aviv on March 12, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Gantz is seeking a Knesset majority for a government made up of his Blue and White (33 seats), the hawkish Yisrael Beytenu (7 seats) and dovish Labor and Meretz (6 seats without Gesher leader Levy-Abekasis), with support from outside of the coalition from most or all of the Arab lawmakers of the Joint List (15 seats).

Levy-Abekasis said on Tuesday in a Facebook post that a Joint List-backed minority government “violates basic norms and values,” that she would not vote for such a government, and that she no longer sees herself beholden to her alliance, leaving Israel on the brink of a fourth election in little more than a year.

Without naming Gantz, she accused him of breaking his promise to voters and “shamefully being willing to pay any price to anybody in order to form a minority government.”

The bid by Blue and White for a minority coalition remains a long-shot effort as two right-leaning members of Gantz’s party, MKs Yoaz Hendel and Zvi Hauser, have openly rejected it and vowed to oppose it, and it remains unclear whether the Joint List and Blue and White could reach an agreement. One of the demands previously raised by the Arab alliance has been that Gantz reject US President Donald Trump administration’s peace plan, which the former army chief of staff has endorsed.

Senior lawmakers from the Blue and White party met with their counterparts in the Joint List on Wednesday to discuss the possibility of the Joint List recommending Gantz as prime minister during consultations with President Reuven Rivlin next week.

Blue and White MKs Ofer Shelah (L) and Avi Nissenkorn hold talks with Joint List MKS Mtanes Shihadeh, Ahmad Tibi, Aida Touma-Sliman and Mansour Abbas in the Knesset on March 11, 2020. (Courtesy)

Joint List MK Ahmad Tibi, who attended the meeting with fellow party member Aida Touma-Sliman and Blue and White MKs Ofer Shelah and Avi Nissenkorn, said the party had not made up its mind on how it would approach consultations with Rivlin, scheduled for Sunday.

The Joint List is made up of four separate factions that are not united on whether to endorse Gantz. In September, three of the four factions recommended Gantz, with the ultra-nationalist Balad sub-faction refusing to join.

Blue and White remained mum after the meeting, not issuing a traditional statement and photo as it has done after sit-downs with other party representatives.

The Kan public broadcaster reported that the sides did not even discuss the possibility of the Joint List backing a Gantz-led minority government from the opposition and instead were seeking to take things one step at a time, first dealing with the presidential recommendation, which takes place before coalition negotiations can even begin. According to Kan, the Joint List’s demands were related only to social issues, and it is saving the more controversial demands regarding diplomatic affairs for coalition negotiations.

Earlier Wednesday, Gantz met with Peretz with the sides insisting afterward that they were still on track to form a government, apparently brushing the Levy-Abekasis setback aside and reaffirming their willingness to cooperate with the Joint List. They “agreed to continue their strategic partnership and to continue with efforts to form a government, harnessing all the partners in the political system to prevent Netanyahu and Likud from dragging the country to a fourth election,” a joint statement said.

Neither Netanyahu’s Likud nor Blue and White mustered a majority of Knesset seats in last Monday’s election, and neither has a clear path to a majority coalition. The prime minister has the backing of 58 MKs and Likud is the largest party in the 120-seat Knesset.

Also on Wednesday, Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman said his party’s position against cooperating with the Joint List “has not changed,” amid reports he may agree to support a Blue and White-led government backed from the outside by the predominantly Arab slate.

But he also dismissed the possibility of joining Netanyahu’s bloc and charged that the prime minister “cooperated with [Palestinian leader Yasser] Arafat and Arab parties more than anyone else.”

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