Labor chief tells Netanyahu not to bother calling, can’t be lured into coalition

Amir Peretz calls PM’s incitement against Arab minority during election campaign ‘unacceptable,’ urges Gantz to include Joint List in coalition negotiations

Labor-Gesher party leader Amir Peretz speaks to the media after casting his ballot at a voting station in Sderot, during the Knesset elections, on September 17, 2019. (Flash90)
Labor-Gesher party leader Amir Peretz speaks to the media after casting his ballot at a voting station in Sderot, during the Knesset elections, on September 17, 2019. (Flash90)

Labor chairman Amir Peretz on Wednesday reiterated his refusal to join a government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and urged the centrist Blue and White party to include Arab parties in its coalition negotiations.

“I know you are a very busy man, you have a lot going on. So you can save yourself the call to Labor-Gesher headquarters,” Peretz said of Netanyahu at a press conference in Tel Aviv.

“I’ve already been defense minister, deputy prime minister and the chairman of the national labor union, so I’m really not looking for a job. I can’t be lured in by that, you have no chance,” said Peretz.

According to the latest results, Peretz’s Labor got six seats in the election, prompting some speculation that Netanyahu could try and tempt the party into a prospective right-wing, religious coalition — as he tried to do during his ultimately futile efforts to put together a coalition after the April elections.

Peretz went on to urge Blue and White leader Benny Gantz to include the Arab-majority Joint List in negotiations for a possible coalition. The Joint List is set to be the third largest party in the Knesset, projected to get 12 seats.

In remarks directed at Gantz, Peretz said that Arab parties “should also be invited to the negotiating table. No group or party should be excluded from the opportunity to bring about historic change to this country.

“We shouldn’t boycott [Joint List leader] Ayman Odeh, just like we shouldn’t boycott the ultra-Orthodox,” he said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to Likud supporters in Tel Aviv, early in the morning of September 18, 2019, after elections the previous day. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Peretz also blasted Netanyahu for ramping up his incitement against the Arab minority ahead of the election.

“Netanyahu’s incitement against the Arab population was unacceptable, and anyone seeking to hold the office of prime minister should denounce it, and work to root out racist language from the political discourse in Israel,” Peretz added. “Netanyahu’s incitement is rotting the foundation of Israeli democracy.”

Likud officials reached out to Peretz earlier on Wednesday, the Haaretz daily reported, trying to convince him to join a Netanyahu-led coalition along with the ultra-Orthodox parties and religious-nationalist Yamina.

The report said Peretz quickly declined the offer, and told party officials he was only interested in replacing Netanyahu.

During the campaign, rumors swirled that Peretz might lead the party into a right-wing Netanyahu government. Labor previously entered such a government in 2009, but this time around Peretz repeatedly insisted that under no circumstances would that happen, going so far as to shave off his mustache after 47 years to get his point across.

Peretz is expected to endorse Gantz for prime minister.

Meanwhile on Wednesday, the Likud and Blue and White remained deadlocked, with neither party having a clear path to victory. According to near final tallies, Blue and White was maintaining its narrow lead, with 33 seats against the Likud’s 32.

Blue and White party chairman Benny Gantz with colleagues (from right) Yair Lapid, Moshe Ya’alon and Gabi Ashkenazi at party headquarters on elections night in Tel Aviv, early September 18, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Though the leading parties each picked up another seat since the Wednesday morning tally, the rival parties are no closer to forming a majority coalition, raising the possibility of negotiations for a unity government or a third election.

The Likud-led bloc includes Shas, United Torah Judaism and Yamina, and would give Netanyahu 56 backers for the premiership, five seats shy of the 61 needed for a majority in the Knesset.

In the Gantz-led bloc, the Blue and White leader would pick up just 44 endorsements for prime minister, from his own faction, left-wing Labor-Gesher and the Democratic Camp.

It remains unclear whether the Joint list or Yisrael Beytenu, a potential kingmaker in the race with eight seats, will back Gantz.

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