'He knows it will end badly. He’s been there'

Lapid: Netanyahu talking like adherent of Jewish Hebron terrorist who killed 29

After PM declares minority coalition backed by Arab MKs will be hailed in Tehran and Gaza, Blue and White leaders warn he’s ‘inciting violence’ against large section of public

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Blue and White party chairman Benny Gantz (R) and No. 2 Yair Lapid at a faction meeting in the Knesset on November 18, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Blue and White party chairman Benny Gantz (R) and No. 2 Yair Lapid at a faction meeting in the Knesset on November 18, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Leaders of the Blue and White party lambasted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday for “inciting” against lawmakers of the majority-Arab Joint List, a day after the premier held a rally where he said a minority government backed by the party would be a terror attack.

Speaking to the press ahead of a faction meeting at the Knesset, Blue and White No. 2 Yair Lapid said Netanyahu’s rhetoric sounded like that of a follower of Jewish terrorist Baruch Goldstein, who killed 29 Muslim worshipers when he opened fire in Hebron’s Tomb of the Patriarchs in 1994.

“The words coming out of Netanyahu’s mouth in the past few days are incitement to violence. They are words spoken by followers of Baruch Goldstein, not by a prime minister. It will end badly. He knows it will end badly. He’s been there,” Lapid said in a statement. Netanyahu was widely accused by the left of incitement in the period that led up to the 1995 assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.

“We received — every citizen in the State of Israel — an ugly and dangerous show of hypocrisy, lies and incitement right before our eyes,” said Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz.

On Sunday evening, Netanyahu’s Likud party organized an “emergency rally” aimed at “stopping the dangerous minority government that is reliant on terror supporters.”

There, the premier stepped up his attacks against the Joint List, accusing the party’s members of seeking to “destroy the country.”

He claimed, without proof, that the Arab MKs support the Gaza terror organizations that Israel fought against last week.

Netanyahu said that a minority coalition “will be celebrated in Tehran, Ramallah, in Gaza, just as they celebrate every terror attack… But this will be a national historic terror attack on the State of Israel.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses supporters at a Likud party rally in Tel Aviv on November 17, 2019. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

Responding to the accusations directly, Lapid asked rhetorically, “If he’s not prime minister then it’s a terror attack against Israel? If he doesn’t live in [the Prime Minister’s Residence] it’s an Iranian victory?”

The speech came hours after Joint List leader Ayman Odeh asked the police for extra protection, saying Netanyahu’s inciting rhetoric was endangering his life.

Lapid asserted in a faction meeting that Netanyahu’s rhetoric could endanger members of Blue and White. “If, God forbid, something happens to one of the people sitting in this room, it’s because of Netanyahu. He caused it. He can’t go on TV afterwards and say how shocked he is.”

Blue and White chair Benny Gantz (C) meeting with leaders of the Joint List alliance, Ayman Odeh (L) and Ahmed Tibi, October 31, 2019. (Ofek Avshalom)

“What he said about the Arab citizens of Israel is racism and it’s intolerable,” he added.

Giving a status update on his efforts to form a unity government with Likud, Gantz said that he “has come to understand that he’s been talking to a wall — talking to a bloc,” he clarified, referring to the 55-member union of right-wing, religious parties that have insisted on negotiating as a single unit.

Gantz called on Netanyahu to break away from the bloc and negotiate independently with Blue and White in order to form a government in the two days that remain before he must return the mandate to President Reuven Rivlin.

“Instead of frightening and scaring others, let’s talk. Instead of inciting and dividing, let’s talk. Let’s sit down and reach a compromise that can truly serve all of Israel’s citizens. That can enable the formation of a broad and liberal unity government, as the public wanted,” he said.

Unity or bust… for now

Ahead of his own faction meeting, Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman, touted as a possible kingmaker in coalition wrangling, said he was still trying to force Likud and Blue and White together into a unity government.

“If by noon on Wednesday we have not reached an agreement then as far as I am concerned we have failed [at forming a unity government] and it’ll be every man for himself,” Liberman told reporters, seemingly leaving the door open for negotiations for a minority government during Blue and White’s final 12 hours to form a coalition before the midnight deadline later that day.

Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman speaks at faction meeting in the Knesset on November 18, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Asked about his meeting with Netanyahu on Sunday evening, Liberman said it was very “businesslike” and that they did not waste time discussing personal quarrels.

Notably, the Yisrael Beytenu chairman describes his goal over the next 48 hours as the formation of a “national unity government,” dropping the word “liberal,” which he has used frequently in the past, in a possible indication of more flexibility toward the ultra-Orthodox parties.

Liberman refused to answer when asked which scenario he views as worse: the formation of a minority government or a third election. Netanyahu said last night that the consequences of the former option would be far more severe — an “existential threat” to the country.

Gantz has until Wednesday to clinch a coalition, after which Knesset members have a further 21 days to choose a candidate to be given the mandate or decide to head back to elections — the third in less than a year.

Though the former IDF chief of staff has no realistic path to forming a majority coalition without Likud, he could presumably form a minority government, provided Avigdor Liberman came on board, with the external backing of the predominantly Arab Joint List.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a Likud party rally in Tel Aviv on November 17, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Gantz has met with leaders of the Joint List recently, but has not said whether he supports the establishment of a minority government with the support of the Arab-majority parties. Arab politicians have said they haven’t received a concrete proposal from Gantz for such a move.

A minority government would hinge on the support of Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu. Liberman, who has previously campaigned on tough policies against Arab Israelis and who regularly denounces Joint List MKs as illegitimate political figures, said on Sunday that any minority government would be a “disaster” for the country.

Odeh has called on Gantz to form a minority government that includes the Arabs, saying that even if it would quickly fall, such a “courageous” move would be worth it for the single purpose of ending Netanyahu’s term as prime minister.

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