A Likud cabinet minister promised on Sunday that his party’s lawmakers would not vote to dissolve the 22nd Knesset and trigger an unprecedented third election within a year if their party’s bid to lead the next government failed.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to form a coalition after the April 9 race, and sent the country to new elections in order to avoid letting his rival Benny Gantz have a shot at forming such a coalition. But the new elections, which took place on September 17, also failed to deliver a clear right-wing majority for Netanyahu, sparking speculation that he’ll favor a third go.
Speaking to Army Radio on Sunday, Minister Tzachi Hanegbi vowed not to vote for a third election.
“If there is a bill to dissolve the Knesset, we will vote against it,” he said of Likud lawmakers.
He called instead for the heads of Blue and White and Likud to hammer out a unity government, saying, “there has to be a dialogue, Netanyahu and Gantz have to devote their time not to building a government [led by themselves] but to finding common ground.”
Hanegbi’s comments came as one of Likud’s two coalition negotiators also called for a Gantz-Netanyahu summit, but rejected Blue and White’s demand that a unity government come only after Likud removes Netanyahu as party leader.
Environment Minister Ze’ev Elkin, who represents Likud in the coalition talks alongside Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, urged that Gantz and Netanyahu meet “without preconditions” to discuss “a unity government.”
Elkin spoke to the Ynet news site on Sunday, saying there was now no alternative to “two people going into a room and conducting a very complex negotiation and arriving at an agreement.”
He hinted at a Likud willingness to let Gantz go first as premier in any rotation agreement with Netanyahu, citing an example of a previous rotation agreement entered into by a Likud leader, the 1984 coalition agreement between Likud’s Yitzhak Shamir and Labor’s Shimon Peres. Peres went first in that arrangement.
Elkin acknowledged the vitriol that had characterized the 2019 election campaign, saying that Shamir and Peres “also came to the negotiations after a very toxic campaign with massive ideological differences, but when there was no clear decision [in the election results of 1984], they knew how to go into that room, to set aside all the dreams, and also the personal insults, and form a government.”
Elkin insisted that Likud’s position remained that “Benjamin Netanyahu is our candidate.”
The comments by the two ministers are the clearest signals yet that Likud negotiators have found themselves unable to form a right-wing-Haredi coalition in the 22nd Knesset, despite working hard in recent days to woo secularist Yisrael Beytenu, leftist Labor-Gesher and even parts of the rival Blue and White coalition into a Netanyahu-led coalition.
Netanyahu has also called for a unity government with Blue and White, but one led by him and based on a coalition of right-wing and ultra-Orthodox factions.
Gantz, meanwhile, has insisted he must lead the next government, as his party appears to have won the most votes in the September 17 race — 33 seats to Likud’s 31 — while Blue and White officials have ruled out sitting with Netanyahu himself in the next government, calling on Likud to oust their longtime leader and join a Gantz-led government with new leadership.
Blue and White officials have said their first order of business in the new Knesset will be to replace the parliament’s speaker, Likud’s Yuli Edelstein, in order to ensure that Likud cannot force a vote to dissolve the 22nd Knesset and call new elections if Netanyahu fails to become prime minister in the next coalition.