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Likud seeks to convince Gantz to bolt government, replace Bennett as PM

MK Zohar says defense minister ‘can be prime minister right now’ if he agrees to form an alternate coalition with right-wing parties

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Minister of Defense Benny Gantz speaks with Likud parliament member Miki Zohar during a vote at the Knesset, on August 24, 2020. (Oren Ben Hakoon/POOL vis Flash 90)
Minister of Defense Benny Gantz speaks with Likud parliament member Miki Zohar during a vote at the Knesset, on August 24, 2020. (Oren Ben Hakoon/POOL vis Flash 90)

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party renewed on Monday its public efforts to persuade Blue and White’s Benny Gantz to leave the government and form an alternate coalition with right-wing parties.

“If Benny Gantz wants to be prime minister, he can be prime minister — right now,” Likud MK Miki Zohar told the Knesset channel in a Monday interview, referring to an offer for the defense minister to become premier as part of a rotation deal that would see Netanyahu returned to power in two years’ time.

Zohar later tweeted at Gantz: “Join us to form a national government without the left and without representatives of the Islamic Movement and save the people of Israel from this bad government.”

Gantz, who previously joined a power-sharing government with Likud, did not immediately respond.

Asked about the offer at the Yesh Atid faction meeting in the Knesset, Foreign Minister and Alternate Prime Minister Yair Lapid laughed off the suggestion that the Likud would succeed in enticing Gantz.

“Benny is far too intelligent to believe Benjamin Netanyahu again this time after he cheated him so blatantly — so I do not think there is a good chance he will go,” Lapid said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Defense Minister Benny Gantz face away from each other during the swearing in of the 24th Knesset. (Knesset Spokesperson’s Office)

Netanyahu’s Likud and Gantz’s Blue and White agreed to form a coalition in April 2020, after three consecutive inconclusive elections. But just over six months after it was formed, the government was dissolved when the sides could not agree on passing a 2020 budget, and a new election was called for March 2021. The move was widely seen as having been engineered by Netanyahu so as to avoid handing over the premiership to Gantz in November 2021, as stipulated in the coalition agreement between them.

In a desperate last-minute bid to thwart the swearing-in of the new government last month, Likud officials conveyed to Gantz a plan by which Netanyahu would immediately step down and the Blue and White chief could serve as premier for three years, Channel 12 reported at the time.

The proposal, rejected by Gantz’s camp, would reportedly have seen Netanyahu serve as alternate prime minister during that time.

The reported offer was one of several that came to Gantz through a number of channels and associates close to Netanyahu in the days before the new government was sworn in.

Yamina head Naftali Bennett ousted Netanyahu from the Prime Minister’s Office last month after agreeing to form a government with Lapid and a wide array of parties aligned against Netanyahu, ranging from the dovish Meretz to the pro-annexation New Hope and the Islamist party Ra’am. Under the agreement, Bennett will serve as prime minister for two years before handing the office to Lapid for the remainder of the term.

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