A lawmaker from the ruling Likud party said Thursday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hopes to include Benny Gantz, the leader of the Blue and White alliance, in the next government, but not his deputy, Yair Lapid.
“We have no problem going with Gantz — but without Yesh Atid,” MK David Bitan told Radio Drom, referring to Lapid’s party.
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, the No. 2 in Likud, also signaled he would be willing to sit with Gantz.
“I’m not one to disqualify. Every Zionist party is invited to enter negotiations based on the lines we can live with,” Edelstein said in an interview to the Kan public broadcaster.
The comments by Edelstein and Bitan confirmed a report from Kan that the premier had told members of his party he would try to bring Gantz and his Israel Resilience party into a Likud-led coalition that includes ultra-Orthodox and national-religious factions after the elections on September 17.
Quoting unnamed Likud lawmakers, Kan said Gantz and his party were considered to be the most likely figures in Blue and White to join a right-wing coalition.
Blue and White was formed ahead of elections in April as a merger of Israel Resilience and Yesh Atid. The Telem party, which is led by former Likud defense minister Moshe Ya’alon and includes a pair of former Netanyahu aides, is also part of that electoral alliance.
Sources in Blue and White told the broadcaster in response to the report that it is in talks with Likud MKs about forming a coalition together without Netanyahu.
“Netanyahu’s plans will be met with the same answer he received when he turned to us before dragging us to the current election campaign — a negative answer,” the sources said.
Likud’s interest in bringing Gantz into a coalition comes amid reports of a rift among the top brass of Blue and White over Lapid’s campaign against ultra-Orthodox lawmakers.
“This is not an easy thing to say, but Yair Lapid is standing between us and victory in the elections,” a senior Blue and White source told Zman Yisrael, The Times of Israel’s Hebrew-language site, on Tuesday.
As part of the merger between Israel Resilience and Yesh Atid, Gantz agreed to a rotation agreement under which he will serve as premier for 2.5 years if Blue and White wins the elections, after which Lapid will take the reins for the remaining year and a half of the term.
While ultra-Orthodox parties have suggested they could sit in a coalition with Gantz, they have ruled out joining a government that includes Lapid, who championed legislation during a stint as finance minister between 2013-2014 aimed at increasing ultra-Orthodox enlistment in the military.
Netanyahu and his ultra-Orthodox allies later sought to roll back that law.
Disagreements over a bill formalizing exemptions to mandatory conscription for seminary students helped lead to the collapse of the last government.
Following the elections in April, Yisrael Beytenu party head Avigdor Liberman refused to join Netanyahu’s proposed coalition unless that bill was passed without changes, a demand rejected by ultra-Orthodox parties.
Without Yisrael Beytenu, Netanyahu was one seat shy of a majority and rather than having another lawmaker get a crack at forming a government pushed through a vote to dissolve the Knesset and call elections.
With polls forecasting that neither Likud nor Blue and White can cobble together a majority without Yisrael Beytenu, Liberman has said he’ll force the parties into a unity government if he emerges as coalition kingmaker.
Blue and White has said it is open to a unity government without Netanyahu, while the prime minister has vowed to pursue a government with right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties.