Kulanu minister says party does not rule out joining Gantz-led coalition

But Yifat Shasha-Biton says Blue and White would need to secure Knesset majority without ‘anti-Zionist parties’; adds faction will back Netanyahu as long as no indictment filed

Housing Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton
Housing Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton

Housing Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton, number three on the Kulanu party’s slate, said Saturday she did not rule out the party joining a government led by Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz.

In polling, Kulanu is viewed as part of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc and it sits in the outgoing coalition. However it is the only right-wing party that has not explicitly ruled out supporting Gantz following the April 9 vote.

But Shasha-Biton stipulated that Kulanu would only consider supporting Gantz if he is able to build a Knesset majority without the support of Arab parties.

“We do not rule out any Zionist party, as long as it is not a situation of them forming a technical bloc alongside anti-Zionist parties who do not believe in Israel’s Zionist identity,” Shasha-Biton said at a cultural event in Beersheba.

“If Gantz manages to form a government with a true majority, without any anti-Zionist parties, then yes, we do not rule out that possibility,” she said.

Benny Gantz, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right. (Gili Yaari, Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Two polls released Friday night projected for the first time that the center-left bloc would win a 61-seat majority in the election, with Blue and White securing 36-37 seats. However, when removing the Arab parties’ projected 12 seats, the center-left bloc is left with 49 seats only.

Blue and White is an alliance between Gantz’s Yesh Atid party and Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid. While ultra-Orthodox parties have in the past joined centrist and leftist coalitions, the leaders of Shas and United Torah Judaism have ruled out joining Lapid, who they see as a figure who has fought against their communities.

Shasha-Biton added that Blue and White’s positions on major issues were still not clear to her. “When their people are interviewed one says ‘day’ while another says ‘night,'” she said.

Shasha-Biton also said Kulanu, which won 10 seats in the 2015 elections but is polling at only around 4-5 seats now, would not reject the leadership of Netanyahu, who faces multiple charges of corruption, as long as he has not been indicted at court. She said she believed Netanyahu would step down if he is indicted, but that there was no reason for him to do so long as charges have not filed against him and the hearing process plays out.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced Thursday that he intends to indict Netanyahu, pending a hearing, on charges of fraud, breach of trust and bribery.

Following the announcement, all of Netanyahu’s coalition partners except Kulanu vowed to continue to back him despite the allegations.

Shasha-Biton on Saturday said the party’s position was clear. “There is nothing to discuss until after a hearing. If after a hearing there is an indictment, we won’t sit in the government.

“Beyond that,” she added, “I’m certain the prime minister will make the right choice” after such an indictment is filed.

Kulanu party leader Moshe Kahlon has not commented on the charges against the premier or on the possibility of joining Gantz.

Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid (R) with new party member Orna Barbivai, the first woman to have been appointed an IDF major general, January 1, 2019. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

Meanwhile Blue and White candidate Orna Barbivai, the army’s first-ever female major general, reiterated leader Yair Lapid’s statements that the party would invite Likud to join a coalition under its leadership following the election — without Netanyahu.

“A prime minister dealing with such serious charges, even if he turns out to be innocent, must stand aside,” she said. However, “we do not have issues with Likud’s views or with Labor’s.”

Another Blue and White candidate, former television news anchor Miki Haimovich, said it was time for Israel’s ruling party to have “a spectrum of voices.”

Describing herself as a centrist, Haimovich said: “When I sit in various forums with people whose positions are to the right of mine, our discussions are very interesting, and it is that message — that you can sit together even without agreeing on everything — that is a message to the nation. The internal splintering in recent years, extremism and polarization, are very dangerous.”

Former news anchor Miki Haimovich. (Yanai Yechiel)

Yisrael Beytenu chief Avigdor Liberman, whose party the latest polls have indicated would not garner enough votes to enter the Knesset, said he did not intend to join a government led by Gantz.

“Benny Gantz is a good man, but that is not a career,” he said. He criticized Gantz’s performance as chief of staff during the 2014 Gaza war. “I want a man who can perform. Netanyahu had praise for his command during [Operation] Protective Edge…I did not.”

Liberman rejected pessimistic polls, calling them “psychological warfare” with “no connection to reality.”

Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman speaks at an event in Ganei Tikva, on February 25, 2019. (Flash90)

The secularist Liberman also criticized Netanyahu’s Likud party for its ongoing alliance with ultra-Orthodox parties and what he said was its capitulation to ultra-Orthodox demands.

Liberman said the party’s founders had been “liberal people.” But today I see [Likud MK] David Bitan teaching United Torah Judaism how to thwart the bill to enlist yeshiva students, [Culture Minister] Miri Regev speaks of [female] modesty and [MK] Miki Zohar brings a Shabbat bill to the Knesset.”

Of Netanyahu’s legal woes, Liberman said: “Only the courts are authorized to determine whether a man is guilty or innocent. The presumption of innocence is reserved for everyone, including the prime minister.”

A poll published by the Kan public broadcaster Friday night found that 36% of Israelis believe that Netanyahu should resign now. A further 32% think he should step down if he is actually indicted after the completion of the hearing process.

Twenty-three percent of respondents said that Netanyahu could continue being prime minister even after an indictment, which the law technically allows, and 8% said they did not know.

The poll found that 42% of Israelis believe Netanyahu’s claim that Mandelblit, in announcing the planned indictment, was motivated by pressure from the left and the media to bring down his right-wing government, while 58% said the attorney general was acting from professional considerations only.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit speaks during a conference at the national library in Jerusalem on June 6, 2018 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The Kan poll, and another from Channel 13, also indicated that Netanyahu could be unable to form a governing coalition.

The survey by Kan showed that if elections were held today, results would see Likud maintaining its strength from recent polls and winning 29 seats in the 120-member. The Blue and White alliance of Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid would get 37 seats.

It gave the New Right, the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism and the Arab Hadash-Ta’al parties seven seats each. Labor, Shas and Meretz would all win six seats, and Kulanu, the Union of Right Wing Parties and the second Arab party Ra’am-Balad would each get five seats.

The Channel 13 survey had slightly different results, but also found a 59-61 division among the blocs and concluded the right would be unable to form a coalition.

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