Foreign, defense, interior, justice -- the choice was theirs

MKs say they were offered ‘everything’ to desert Blue and White before election

Derech Eretz’s Zvi Hauser and Yoaz Hendel say Netanyahu-led bloc would have given them ‘every position we could have imagined’ to join right-wing coalition

Knesset members Yoaz Hendel (L) and Zvi Hauser (R) seen at the Knesset, ahead of the opening session of the new parliament on April 29, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
Knesset members Yoaz Hendel (L) and Zvi Hauser (R) seen at the Knesset, ahead of the opening session of the new parliament on April 29, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Derech Eretz MKs Zvi Hauser and Yoaz Hendel said they were offered “everything” to desert the Blue and White party and join a right-wing government ahead of the last elections.

The two MKs were conservative members of Benny Gantz’s Blue and White alliance at the time. Gantz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signed a unity agreement on Monday night, potentially ending over a year of political deadlock during which Israel has not had a permanent government.

Hendel said that before the March 2 elections, “everyone you could want came to us with every offer you could want, whatever role as a minister you could think of. Every ministerial role — from foreign minister, defense, interior, justice, [offers] to bring in other people, every position we could have imagined, if we joined a narrow government led by Netanyahu.”

Hendel and Hauser made the statements to Channel 12 news, which published an excerpt of the interview on Thursday. The full interview will be broadcast by the network on Friday.

“We consciously chose to go with a unity government where Benny Gantz will eventually be prime minister,” Hendel said. “We believe in it. What I said about Blue and White — I believe in it, I believe that this is the only thing that can heal Israeli society. I fear a civil war, not anything else.”

The two MKs were formerly members of Moshe Ya’alon’s Telem party, which was part of Blue and White before Ya’alon broke from the alliance, along with Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid faction, at the end of last month.

The two parties bolted over Gantz’s election as Knesset speaker on March 26, a position he won with the backing of Netanyahu’s right-wing religious bloc, in a move designed to open coalition talks with Likud.

Israel has been led by a caretaker government since December 2018, when the 20th Knesset dissolved. Since then, three consecutive elections have failed to yield a new government, creating an unprecedented political crisis.

Gantz campaigned in the three consecutive elections over the past year on replacing Netanyahu, largely due to the graft charges against the latter.

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

One main bone of contention in the talks was the makeup and mechanics of the Judicial Appointments Committee, which installs judges, with Netanyahu — who has been indicted on multiple counts of corruption, including bribery — demanding veto power over nominations.

Under the agreement reached Monday night, Likud ensured a right-wing majority on the panel, counting Hauser, a former cabinet secretary under Netanyahu. Though a right-wing conservative who is unlikely to back judicial activism, Hauser has also been critical of attacks on the courts and is considered by Gantz and his allies to be a defender of the judiciary’s independence.

Meanwhile Blue and White’s Avi Nissenkorn is set to be appointed justice minister, replacing the firebrand Amir Ohana of Likud who had made a habit of attacking the courts and the state prosecution.

The cabinet will initially include 32 ministers and then swell to 36, with 16 deputy ministers, as soon as the coronavirus crisis is deemed to have ended, in what will be the largest cabinet by far in Israel’s history.

Blue and White leaders Yair Lapid (R) and Moshe Ya’alon at a faction meeting at the Knesset on June 24, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The coalition agreement features several complex clauses designed to ensure that the prime ministership is indeed handed over as agreed — with provisions intended to prevent Netanyahu maneuvering to avoid transferring the job to Gantz — with some of the clauses requiring new or amended legislation. If Netanyahu dissolves parliament in the first 18 months, the deal indicates, Gantz would take over as prime minister for a protracted interim period before elections.

Similarly, the agreement features clauses designed to ensure that if the High Court of Justice rules in the coming six months that Netanyahu cannot serve as prime minister because of the indictments against him, the Knesset would dissolve, and new elections would be held, with Gantz serving as prime minister during the interim period.

The Knesset on Thursday gave its initial approval to legislation meant to anchor in law the deal between Netanyau and Gantz to rotate the premiership.

Lawmakers voted on a bill meant to make the terms of the shared premiership binding, including Netanyahu being forced to step down in October 2021 and be replaced by Gantz for 1.5 years.

The legality of the bill, and other aspects of the Netanyahu-Gantz coalition deal signed on Monday, are being challenged at the High Court of Justice.

In the preliminary reading vote Thursday, 62 lawmakers supported the bill while 37 opposed it. However, the bill still has three more readings to pass before it becomes law.

The emerging coalition is initially likely to number 72 MKs. (Netanyahu’s bloc comprises Likud with 36 MKs; Shas with 9, United Torah Judaism with 7, and Orly Levy-Abekasis’s 1, for a total of 53 MKs. It is not yet clear whether Yamina, with 6 MKs, will join the coalition. Gantz’s bloc comprises his Blue and White faction with 15, Derech Eretz’s Hauser and Hendel, and Labor’s Amir Peretz and Itzik Shmuli, for a total of 19 MKs.)

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