Labor, Gesher said set to join Gantz in gov’t; Liberman allies say ‘no chance’

Labor, Gesher said set to join Gantz in gov’t; Liberman allies say ‘no chance’

Israel Resilience leader says ‘at peace’ with decision, no other way during this time of national emergency without going to 4th elections; critics call his behavior ‘amateurish’

Gesher head Orly Levy-Abekasis (left), with Labor leader Amir Peretz in Tel Aviv on election night, March 2, 2020. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Gesher head Orly Levy-Abekasis (left), with Labor leader Amir Peretz in Tel Aviv on election night, March 2, 2020. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Sources close to Yisrael Beytenu chief Avgidor Liberman said Friday there was “no chance” of Liberman following Benny Gantz in entering Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, even as the former Blue and White leader said he was “at peace” with his decision at a time of national crisis.

The sources told several Hebrew media outlets: “Gantz’s entire conduct was askew” since the election. “He hid things and behaved in an amateurish manner.” Gantz is reportedly aiming to become prime minister in September 2021 under a not-yet-signed deal with Netanyahu.

There had been some speculation that Liberman could drop his demands for secularist policies and seek to enter the government after Gantz broke up the Blue and White alliance Thursday and indicated he would bring his Israel Resilience party into a unity government with Likud and the religious and right bloc.

Meanwhile, Channel 13 reporter Akiva Novick tweeted Friday that Labor leader Amir Peretz has been calling party activists and telling them to prepare the party base for joining the coalition alongside Gantz.

MK Itzik Shmuli was also expected to join.

Channel 12 news reported that the Gesher party’s MK Orly Levy-Abekasis, who broke up her alliance with Labor-Meretz following the election and whose party only has a single seat in the legislature, will also enter the new coalition.

Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman seen at a conference at the Israeli Institute for Democracy, in Jerusalem, on February 24, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In a Facebook message Friday, Gantz reiterated that he was “even more at peace with his decision.”

Gantz said that he had no other option during this time of “emergency.”

“This is the time for leaders to choose what is right and put the lingering issues and personal scores aside,” he wrote.

Gantz’s now-former partners in the Blue and White alliance lambasted him on Thursday night, with Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid excoriating him during a press conference alongside Telem leader Moshe Ya’alon for “crawling” into a coalition of “extremists and extortionists.” He said the former army chief had betrayed Blue and White’s voters, stolen their votes and handed them to Netanyahu. Despite his claims, Gantz was not entering a unity government, but had simply “surrendered” to Netanyahu, Lapid said.

Benny Gantz at the Knesset on March 26, 2020, after being elected Knesset speaker. (Knesset)

Ya’alon joined in, saying Gantz was joining a government that “represents everything that we oppose” in a move that was “disappointing to say the very least.”

Gantz in a tweet Thursday addressed to them said he had decided to join with Netanyahu to save the nation from another round of elections during “such a challenging time.”

He said: “At the end of the day, I believe we must not drag Israel to a fourth election at such a challenging time, when the country is dealing with the coronavirus crisis and its fallout. We disagree on that point.”

Gantz thanked both of them for their partnership over the last year. “In my eyes, you will always be patriots who love the country and act on behalf of it wherever they are,” he wrote.

But writing on Friday, Gantz said they were not being honest with the voters.

“If there are people who wanted and are still pressing to pull families, who have lost their livelihoods and are riddled with anxiety about their health, out to the polls again – have the courage to come out and state this clearly and openly,” Gantz wrote. “You know very well, there is no other alternative route, there was no other alternative route, and had there been, we would have taken it,” Gantz wrote, adding that his door was always open to his former partners.

The Blue and White party came together in 2019, formed of three constituent parts: Lapid’s Yesh Atid, which provided much of the party’s infrastructure having already run in several elections, and Gantz’s Israel Resilience and Ya’alon’s Telem, which were newcomers on Israel’s political scene.

Gantz was handed the mandate to form a government earlier this month after three rounds of seemingly inconclusive elections, but appeared to have no clear path to forging a stable coalition. Both he and Netanyahu, who has run Israel for over a decade but is facing criminal charges, had publicly touted the need for a national emergency unity government in light of the coronavirus crisis, but neither had appeared to make any meaningful steps toward that goal before a Wednesday night phone call between the two.

Yisrael Beytenu’s Avigdor Liberman (C) meets Tuesday March 10 with Blue and White leaders Benny Gantz (2L), Yair Lapid (2R), Gabi Ashkenazi (R) and Moshe Ya’alon (L) (Courtesy/Elad Malka)

According to reports in recent weeks, Gantz, a political neophyte, had supported compromising to join Netanyahu, but was adamantly opposed by Lapid and Ya’alon, both of whom had previously served as ministers under Netanyahu before falling out with him.

Gabi Ashkenazi, the fourth part of Blue and White’s party’s so-called leadership cockpit, is set to join Gantz in the partnership with Netanyahu, with the two former IDF chiefs reportedly to serve as the foreign and defense ministers.

Gantz was elected Knesset speaker Thursday evening as part of the emerging unity deal.

According to the reported deal taking shape, Gantz is set to partner with Netanyahu, serving initially as foreign or defense minister and then taking over as prime minister in September 2021, though many political analysts doubt that such a rotation will actually take place.

The Yesh Atid and Telem factions filed a formal request to break away from Gantz’s party late on Thursday afternoon, leaving only Gantz’s Israel Resilience to join forces with Netanyahu’s Likud. Lapid had reportedly told Gantz he preferred that Israel go to fourth elections than see Blue and White partner with Netanyahu.

Gantz is expected to resign the speakership after a unity government is formed, to be replaced by a Likud MK, potentially even the previous Knesset speaker, Yuli Edelstein, who resigned from the position Wednesday in order to avoid having to carry out a Supreme Court order he disagreed with.

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