Liberman: Netanyahu said no to unity; Blue and White hasn’t given a clear yes

After talks with Yisrael Beytenu leader, Gantz says he’s open to ‘any option’ but indicates he still won’t serve under a PM facing indictment

Blue and White party chairman MK Benny Gantz, left, and Yisrael Beytenu party leader MK Avigdor Liberman at the Kfar Maccabiah Hotel in Ramat Gan, November 14, 2019. (Elad Malka)
Blue and White party chairman MK Benny Gantz, left, and Yisrael Beytenu party leader MK Avigdor Liberman at the Kfar Maccabiah Hotel in Ramat Gan, November 14, 2019. (Elad Malka)

Concluding a Thursday meeting with MK Benny Gantz, Yisrael Beytenu chair MK Avigdor Liberman hinted at disagreements at the top of Blue and White, saying that all leaders from the party must announce they accept President Reuven Rivlin’s unity plan.

“What is missing for me is a clear announcement from all the leaders of Blue and White that they are accepting the president’s plan,” Liberman said, standing next to Gantz in the lobby of the Kfar Maccabiah Hotel in Ramat Gan.

“From Netanyahu we heard clearly ‘no’ — he will not accept the full plan as I proposed. Here I didn’t hear no, but I also didn’t hear yes in a positive way. It’s sorely missing,” Liberman added.

Liberman has urged a Netanyahu-Gantz unity government, excluding ultra-Orthodox and “messianist” parties, but has said he would support whichever party accepted his terms if the other did not.

Gantz said at the conclusion of the meeting that he believes Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “is charging toward elections” and does not really want to negotiate over forming a unity government.

“We just finished a good meeting where we analyzed the situation,” Gantz said of his sit-down with Liberman, which was postponed from Tuesday due to an escalation of violence in the Gaza Strip. “We do not want to see elections and will make every effort until the last minute.”

Israeli missile launched from the Iron Dome defense missile system, designed to intercept and destroy incoming short-range rockets and artillery shells, is seen above Gaza city on November 13, 2019. (Photo by MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)

Israel’s targeted killing of Islamic Jihad terror group commander Baha Abu al-Ata early Tuesday and the subsequent hundreds of rockets from Gaza came as Gantz was trying to put together a government, after Netanyahu failed to do so following elections in September.

Coalition negotiations have stalled amid Netanyahu’s making his agreement to join a government conditional on the inclusion of his right-wing and religious political allies, and Gantz’s refusal to serve under a prime minister suspected of criminal wrongdoing. Netanyahu is expected to be indicted in a trio of criminal cases against him in the coming weeks.

“To the best of my judgment, Netanyahu is keeping the bloc and is charging toward elections,” said Gantz referring to the group of 55 lawmakers from parties allied with the prime minister.

Signaling that he will not agree to Liberman’s demand for him to accept President Reuven Rivlin’s unity plan that would allow Netanyahu to serve as prime minister but temporarily step aside if indicted, Gantz said he is “prepared to consider any option that will uphold my principles in terms of indictment.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement to the press at the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv, on November 12, 2019. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Gantz’s party has previously called for Netanyahu to step down as head of Likud due to a possible indictment pending against him in three corruption cases, saying it will not serve under a prime minister facing grave charges of criminal wrongdoing. Blue and White has said a unity government with Likud could be formed “within an hour” if Netanyahu steps down.

A Blue and White spokesperson would not clarify if Gantz was now willing to serve under Netanyahu in accordance with Rivlin’s plan.

Gantz and Liberman said they have scheduled to meet again early next week.

Lacking a governing majority with their respective political allies, both Netanyahu and Gantz have been called on to form a unity government of Blue and White and Likud, but are at loggerheads over the makeup of such a coalition and who would head it.

Blue and White and Netanyahu’s Likud have regularly blamed each other for the lack of progress in negotiations and sought to cast the other as responsible if the country is forced to go to third elections within a year. Two previous rounds of voting in April and September failed to give either party a clear path to a majority coalition.

Gantz has until November 20 to cobble together a coalition government from lawmakers in the 120-seat Knesset.

A spokesperson for Rivlin said Wednesday that the president cannot give Gantz extra time to form a government, regardless of the security situation in Israel’s south.

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