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Netanyahu and Gantz trade barbs, rule out any future coalition together

Likud leader accuses defense minister of plotting Palestinian capital in Jerusalem, Gantz says he won’t sit with former PM ‘under any circumstances’; fresh polls indicate stalemate

Opposition Leader Benjamin Netanyahu (L) Defense Minister Benny Gantz. (Olivier Fitoussi, Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Opposition Leader Benjamin Netanyahu (L) Defense Minister Benny Gantz. (Olivier Fitoussi, Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Thursday both vowed not to sit with each other after the election, as political leaders across the spectrum scrambled to stake out their positions.

Netanyahu ruled out any future government with the National Unity party’s Benny Gantz at a pre-election conference. Spelling out which parties he anticipates would join his coalition should he be able to form a government, Netanyahu told the conference in Dimona: “I am going to establish a national government — the Likud, Religious Zionism, Shas and United Torah Judaism.”

“Gantz is left-wing; he wants a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem; I won’t form a government with him,” he said, adding, “I won’t give up Religious Zionism to receive some [complimentary] article in [left-wing daily] Haaretz.”

That constellation he set out would likely leave Netanyahu with a narrow right-wing/ultra-Orthodox coalition if he is able to form a government at all, with most polls currently predicting his bloc will get 60 seats in the 120-member Knesset, one short of a majority.

Gantz fired back later Thursday night, declaring that he wouldn’t sit with Netanyahu “under any circumstances.”

The National Unity party leader said there are “parties with an interest to hint I will sit with Netanyahu because National Unity is the only party that can dismantle the Netanyahu bloc.”

Benny Gantz speaks at the launch of the National Unity party campaign for the upcoming elections in Tel Aviv, September 6, 2022.(Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Gantz said he won’t even hold negotiations with Netanyahu’s Likud, and challenged Prime Minister Yair Lapid and other coalition party leaders to follow suit. Gantz partnered Netanyahu in a 2020 coalition that collapsed the following year.

Lapid, speaking earlier at a conference organized by Channel 12, said he would sit with Likud, but not while Netanyahu was leader, unless he was acquitted in his corruption trial. Lapid also said he would “gladly” take part in a televised pre-election debate with Netanyahu, but noted that the latter has been refusing to participate in such debates for 15 years.

Another Likud MK, Miki Zohar, appeared to contradict Netanyahu’s stance on Gantz, indicating the Likud was open to negotiating with the current defense minister.

Conceding that the Likud will likely have to make policy concessions in order to form a government, Zohar told the Channel 12 conference that “the question” for the Likud was whether to deal with Gantz and acquiesce to his demands, such as maintaining the status quo in the legal system, which the political right has long-sought to restructure.

Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Likud MK Miki Zohar at a meeting of opposition parties in Netanyahu’s right wing-religious bloc, at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on June 14, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In an attempt to calm the Likud’s more liberal voter base who are concerned about the possible role of the far-right in a future government, Zohar told the conference “we will insist on the right-liberal ideology of the Likud, and if they [Religious Zionism] try and take things to the extreme, we won’t establish a coalition and there will not be the required majority.”

Zohar said Likud was not shying away from cooperation with far-right Itamar Ben Gvir, but he would not be allowed to dictate policy.

“Ben Gvir will be part of any government we establish, and I said that without apology,” Zohar declared, adding that despite the Likud and Religious Zionism agreeing on many policies “there are many things where we are not in agreement with Ben Gvir.”

On Ben Gvir, Zohar warned that his Religious Zionism alliance should not “dictate the basic terms of the government” despite its looming success in the national election, with polls predicting the party will attain 13-14 seats, making it the third largest faction in the Knesset.

Fresh polls on Thursday indicated no major change to the electoral landscape, with Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc predicted to win 60 seats, one short of the majority required to govern, with Religious Zionism predicted to receive 14 seats.

The parties in Yair Lapid’s outgoing broad coalition were predicted to win 56 seats.

Broken down into parties, the poll, conducted by Channel 12, indicated that the Likud would receive 31 seats, Yesh Atid 24, Religious Zionism 14, National Unity 11, Shas 8, UTJ 7, Yisrael Beytenu 6, Labor 6, Meretz 5, Hadash-Ta’al 4, Ra’am 4. Ayelet Shaked’s Jewish Home party and the Arab nationalist Balad did not cross the electoral threshold.

A Channel 13 poll produced similar results, with the Likud receiving one seat more than the Channel 12 poll, and Yesh Atid recording 26 seats, two more than the Channel 12 poll.

Channel 13 gave Likud 32 seats; Yesh Atid 26; Religious Zionism 13; National Unity 11; Shas 8; United Torah Judaism 7; Labor 5; Meretz 5; Yisrael Beytenu 5; Ra’am 4; and Hadash-Ta’al 4. Those numbers add up to 60 for the Netanyahu-bloc, and 56 for the outgoing coalition parties, with Hadash-Ta’al allocated to neither bloc.

Meanwhile, at the Channel 12 conference, Shaked made a personal plea to
Netanyahu’s wife Sara to put aside any personal differences for the good of the political right-wing and the country.

There have long been reports of bad blood between Sara Netanyahu and Shaked, with the former reportedly blocking vetoed a 2019 proposal for Shaked to join the Likud, and more recently urging her husband not to cooperate with Shaked.

Despite her leading a right-wing party, Netanyahu has frozen out Shaked and the Jewish Home party after she sat in the outgoing coalition. Were it to clear the threshold, Jewish Home’s inclusion in Netanyahu’s bloc would likely decide the election in favor of the right-wing coalition.

Potentially hampering Lapid’s efforts to form a coalition, Channel 12 reported that three parties — Yisrael Beytenu, Hadash-Ta’al and Ra’am — have yet to sign surplus vote-sharing deals.

Vote-sharing agreements, which are widely used in Israeli elections, allow parties to ensure that extra votes they win that don’t add up to a full Knesset seat do not go to waste. Instead, a party can transfer those votes to another party through a special agreement.

Under the law, the combined leftover votes go to the party closest to winning another seat — and are often sufficient to add that seat to its tally, making the votes potentially decisive in a tight electoral race.

The report said there were talks between Hadash-Ta’al and Ra’am, but an agreement was unlikely with the two sides far apart. Yisrael Beytenu was also unlikely to sign a deal ahead of the Thursday deadline, with all other parties already partnering up and almost no chance it would sign a deal with an Arab party.

Israeli TV polls are notably unreliable, but nevertheless, often steer the decision-making of politicians.

The Channel 12 poll was conducted by the Midgam Institute among 507 respondents, with a margin of error of 4.4%.

The Channel 13 poll was conducted among 801 respondents, by Camil Fuchs in the Jewish community and Yousef Makladeh in the Arab community. It has a 3.5% margin of error.

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