Likud tries in vain to break up Blue and White to gain Knesset majority

Several MKs encouraged to join Netanyahu-led coalition in return for policies important to their constituencies, and/or senior ministerial portfolios

Raoul Wootliff is the Times of Israel's former political correspondent and producer of the Daily Briefing podcast.

Blue and White party leaders (R-L) Benny Gantz, Yair Lapid, Moshe Ya'alon, and Gabi Ashkenazi, during a faction meeting at the Knesset on May 20, 2019. (Hadas Parush /Flash90)
Blue and White party leaders (R-L) Benny Gantz, Yair Lapid, Moshe Ya'alon, and Gabi Ashkenazi, during a faction meeting at the Knesset on May 20, 2019. (Hadas Parush /Flash90)

The Likud party has been attempting to bring the opposition Blue and White into the coalition — or at least parts of it — with offers of top ministries, future diplomatic postings and even promised amendments to the so-called Jewish state law.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s party’s overtures to Blue and White were reported late Wednesday shortly after its last-minute offer to Labor came to light, hours before the deadline for Netanyahu to form a new government — and amid efforts to dissolve the Knesset and force new elections if he fails to do so.

Members of Benny Gantz’s party who were thought to be potential deserters were offered portfolios including defense, finance, justice, culture, and communications, Channel 13 reported Wednesday evening. Some were said to have been offered future appointments as ambassadors in exchange for joining the coalition or supporting it from the outside.

Druze MK Gadeer Mreeh, for instance, was offered possible changes to the controversial Jewish nation-state law, which has angered much of her community. Meanwhile, MK Pnina Tamano-Shata, of Ethiopian descent, was promised further action to bring members of the Ethiopian Falashmura community — whose claim to Judaism the government does not recognize — to Israel. Both Blue and White MKs confirmed the offers to The Times of Israel.

The Likud’s overtures were rebuffed, they said.

Blue and White candidate Gadeer Mreeh (C) and party head Benny Gantz (R) attends a meeting with members of the Druze community of Israel in the city of Daliyat al-Karmel in northern Israel on March 7, 2019. (Jack Guez/AFP)

Earlier this month, Blue and White pushed back against what it said were attempts by the Likud party to lure its lawmakers into the coalition it is building, as talks to form a government appear to hit a dead end.

Moshe Ya’alon, a senior lawmaker from the opposition-bound Blue and White alliance, called the attempt to try and get its lawmakers to jump ship and join a Netanyahu-led coalition “a moral low.”

The accusation came after an Israeli newspaper reported that a close confidant of Netanyahu was trying to convince Blue and White MK Omer Yankelevich to join the coalition.

The addition of a Blue and White lawmaker to the coalition could allow Netanyahu to form a ruling majority of 61 MKs without Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu, whose secularist party’s platform is sharply at odds with the ultra-Orthodox and religious parties expected to join a government.

Labor leader Avi Gabbay earlier on Wednesday evening admitted his center-left party weighed, and ultimately rejected, a Likud offer a day earlier to join the coalition instead of Yisrael Beytenu.

“Over the past month the Labor Party has received several offers to join the government,” Gabbay tweeted after a 30-minute-long media frenzy over reports that Netanyahu had offered him to be a senior minister in the new government in a desperate bid to avoid new elections.

“The latest offer yesterday included a promise of a number of steps to safeguard democracy including nixing legislation to bypass [the High Court], for immunity [for the prime minister], personally motivated legislation and more,” Gabbay said.

Labor Party chairman Avi Gabbay addresses supporters and media, as the results in the elections are announced at the party headquarters in Tel Aviv, on April 9, 2019. (Flash90)

“Members of the faction discussed the offer and we decided not to accept,” he said.

Netanyahu faces a Wednesday night deadline to form a government. He has yet to ink a deal with any of his prospective partners, and progress has stalled amid an impasse between the secular Yisrael Beytenu party and ultra-Orthodox parties on the question of a bill regulating the military draft among the ultra-Orthodox. The Knesset, however, is expected to pass a law dissolving parliament if Netanyahu fails to reach an eleventh-hour deal, preventing President Reuven Rivlin from offering another MK a shot at coalition building.

Hours before the vote, Likud and Yisrael Beytenu continued to blame each other for the crisis. Parties not involved in the coalition talks, including Labor, threatened to filibuster the Knesset session to foil the dissolution and enable the possibility of another lawmaker being given a chance at coalition building, though Knesset regulations could restrict their debate time.

Theoretically, the motion could still be pulled at any time before the final vote if a compromise to the coalition crisis is found.

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