Likud, Blue and White said closing in on deal for emergency government

Possible 3-year partnership would have legal safeguards in place to ensure Netanyahu hands over power to Gantz after 18 months, TV report says, but many potential obstacles remain

Composite photo shows Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Blue and White party chief Benny Gantz, right. (Flash90)
Composite photo shows Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Blue and White party chief Benny Gantz, right. (Flash90)

Likud and the Blue and White party are closing in on an agreement to form an emergency unity government, with a rotation as prime minister between Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz, Channel 13 reported Friday.

The report, which cited senior leaders from both parties, said they were working on a compromise agreement for a three-year term, with safeguards to ensure that the prime minister role would be handed over by Netanyahu to Gantz at the half way point.

However, it noted that the talks were still in a delicate stage and could well yet fall apart.

Under the plan, Netanyahu would serve first as prime minister in an emergency government that would only deal with the coronavirus crisis. If the crisis passes, the power-sharing arrangement could be broadened into a national unity government.

To ensure that Netanyahu does not dissolve the Knesset when the time comes to hand over power, the plan includes a legal agreement that if something like that were to happen, Gantz would become interim prime minister, the report said.

But several stumbling blocks still remained, including a key disagreement over who would head the Justice Ministry, seen as key amid allegations Netanyahu has sought to subvert the rule of law as he tries to avoid his corruption trial, which was due to start this week but has been postponed to May amid the coronavirus crisis.

Channel 12, in a separate report, said the sides were discussing a proposal to have a justice minister from one party and a deputy from the other, who would have to co-sign on major developments.

Gantz was also said to be facing opposition to joining a Netanyahu government from Blue and White number 2 Yair Lapid, with Channel 13 saying there was “a lot of tension” between the two in recent days over the issue.

Blue and White party leaders (from left) Yair Lapid, Moshe Ya’alon, Benny Gantz and Gabi Ashkenazi meet to discuss ongoing coalition negotiations on November 17, 2019. (Courtesy/Elad Malka)

It was possible, the report said, that Gantz could break with Lapid’s Yesh Atid faction, and go into the unity government with just some 18 of the party’s 33 MKs. However, this would leave him vastly outnumbered by the Netanyahu-led right-wing and religious bloc.

Media reports said Gantz and party No. 4 Gabi Ashkenazi were in favor of a unity government, while Lapid and party No. 3 Moshe Ya’alon were refusing, meaning Blue and White could end up splitting.

Blue and White have denied reports of a possible split as “political spin.”

Gantz on Thursday said he would not rule out sitting in a coalition led Netanyahu.

“At the moment all options need to be on the table. It wouldn’t be responsible on my part not to consider any alternative,” he told Channel 12 news.

Gantz, who was tasked Monday by President Reuven Rivlin with forming the next government after 61 MKs recommended him for prime minister, has repeatedly vowed not to sit in a government led by Netanyahu because of the criminal charges against the Likud leader. However, his stance appears to have softened amid the coronavirus crisis.

In the interview, Gantz said Israel needs a coalition to address two challenges facing the country: “to cope with the health, economic and social aspects of the coronavirus crisis and at the same time to preserve Israeli democracy.”

He added that though parties opposed to Netanyahu won a majority of seats in the March 2 elections, he could not ignore the current circumstances in which Israel finds itself.

“I hear that the citizens are interested in a solution to the political crisis,” he said. “For me, it’s of the utmost importance not to ask [me] about what I had said but mostly what needs to be done.”

Benjamin Netanyahu, left, Reuven Rivlin, center, and Benny Gantz, meeting in Jerusalem on March 15, 2020. (Kobi Gideon/ GPO)

While saying he was willing to help Netanyahu and Israel deal with the crisis in any way possible, Gantz stressed “Israeli democracy is critical,” amid accusations from Blue and White that Likud was undermining the country’s democratic institutions under the cover of the virus.

“There is no option for anything else besides democracy and we need to be very careful not to approach the margins of dictatorship,” he said.

Gantz also issued harsh criticism of Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, who closed the plenum Wednesday until next week amid disagreements between Blue and White and Likud over the formation of the Knesset’s so-called Arrangements Committee, which is tasked with overseeing the formation and operation of the parliament.

“It can’t be that we need to turn to the High Court of Justice to jumpstart the Knesset,” Gantz said. “The Knesset speaker is acting in the service of Netanyahu and hindering developments. I assume this is connected to politics.”

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