Sixteen days before the election, Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz on Saturday gave multiple interviews in which he repeated his vow that he would not invite the Joint List to join a coalition after the elections, asserting that he would not require the support of the predominately Arab political alliance.
“I will not sit with the Joint List and I do not need their support,” Gantz told Channel 12 news. “I heard [Avigdor] Liberman this morning say that he will sit with Labor and Meretz and he will sit with us. We have no agreements with Liberman. We had great negotiations with him before the previous Knesset was dissolved. We have achieved unprecedented achievements in understanding about religion and the state.”
Joint List leader Ayman Odeh earlier on Saturday said that Gantz will not be able to form a ruling coalition without them. This week he said that while the Joint List in the wake of the previous elections in September recommended to President Reuven Rivlin that Gantz negotiate a coalition, they will not recommend him if he doesn’t come out against the Trump administration’s Mideast plan.
Without support from the Joint List, Gantz is unlikely to have enough MKs behind him to get the nod after the coming March 2 vote. He is hoping to unseat Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who polls have shown continues to lead a right-wing and religious bloc of MKs that is larger than the opposition bloc Gantz can muster without the Joint List.
Odeh has also ruled out joining any government that includes hawkish MK Avigdor Liberman and his Yisrael Beytenu party.
Liberman on Saturday said he was prepared to join a coalition led by Gantz and that the hard-left Meretz party “doesn’t exist” anymore as its own entity now that it has merged with Labor and Gesher. “It makes it much easier,” he said.
Gantz, who hasn’t taken questions from the media since January 25, expanded on the discussions with Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu in an interview with the Ynet news site, saying that the negotiations had previously been very positive.
“We want to see Shabbat transportation in the right places, civil marriage, [an egalitarian] section at the Western Wall and the cancellation of the convenience store law,” Gantz said, referring to religious issues that Liberman has brought to the front of his campaign.
Gantz told Channel 13 news that he would build a coalition with a Jewish majority, or form a unity government with Likud but without Netanyahu at the party’s helm.
“He is going to go to trial,” he told Channel 12, referring to legal proceedings against the prime minister in which he will face charges of fraud, corruption, and bribery. “Imagine that while he is preparing for trial with a battery of lawyers on important issues from his personal point of view, and then the chief of staff wants to hold a very urgent discussion at night on a matter of security?”
Gantz also said that while he would work to implement the Trump administration’s peace plan if elected in the upcoming national vote, he would work “to clarify some issues.”
On Tuesday Gantz came out against provisions of the White House deal that suggested Arab Israeli towns could become part of a future Palestinian state.
Gantz’s comments came after Odeh said on Tuesday that he will not back Gantz as prime minister unless he made a clear statement publicly ruling out elements of the US peace plan, namely a transfer of some Arab Israeli towns to a Palestinian state and the extension of Israeli sovereignty to the Jordan Valley and other areas of the West Bank.
Hours later, Gantz said he opposed the former but did not comment on the latter.
“I want to take this issue off the table and state that no Israeli, Jewish or Arab citizen will be coerced into another country,” Gantz said.
After US President Donald Trump unveiled his plan at the White House on January 28, Gantz said he would bring the proposal for approval by the Knesset if he is elected prime minister. Netanyahu also embraced the proposal, while the Palestinians rejected it entirely.
The plan allows for Israel to extend sovereignty to the Jordan Valley and its settlements in the West Bank — areas the Palestinians want for a future state. Another controversial proposal is redrawing Israel’s borders to see multiple Arab towns in the so-called Triangle area included in the future Palestine.
Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.