Netanyahu: Gantz planning government with backing of ‘dangerous’ Arab parties

PM accuses Blue and White leader of rejecting offer of unity coalition, says a minority government backed by Joint List will be ‘anti-Zionist and endanger our security’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a memorial ceremony at Jerusalem's Mount Herzl for those killed in the Yom Kippur War, on October 10, 2019. (Screen capture/Youtube)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a memorial ceremony at Jerusalem's Mount Herzl for those killed in the Yom Kippur War, on October 10, 2019. (Screen capture/Youtube)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday charged that Blue and White leader Benny Gantz intends to form a minority government with outside support from the mostly Arab Joint List alliance, warning such a move would endanger Israel’s security.

Netanyahu, who is nearing the end of a period given to him to try, so far unsuccessfully, to form a government, appeared to be returning to his election campaign stance of appearing to demonize the Arab parties and tar Gantz as a leftist.

In a post on his Facebook page, Netanyahu said that Gantz had rejected his offers for a unity government and charged that Gantz, together with Blue and White number two Yair Lapid and Yisrael Beytenu’s Avigdor Liberman, had refused to rule out the minority government option.

“Establishing a minority government that relies on the Joint List is an anti-Zionist act that endangers our security,” Netanyahu wrote, accusing Joint List leaders Ayman Odeh and Ahmad Tibi of supporting Palestinian terror and Hezbollah.

Members of the Joint List Ayman Odeh, left, and Ahmad Tibi consult with President Reuven Rivlin on who should form the the next government, at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, on September 22, 2019. (Menahem Kahana/Pool via AP)

Netanyahu also accused Lapid and Liberman of “holding Gantz hostage” to their personal ambitions.

Liberman reacted to the post, saying it was a sign of Netanyahu’s “desperation,” and accused the prime minister of hypocrisy, saying Netanyahu had a long history of cooperating with Arab parties.

Recently, the pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom daily floated claims that Blue and White, which won 33 seats in September’s elections, could seek to create a 44-seat minority government supported from the outside by the Joint List (13 seats) and Yisrael Beytenu (8 seats).

But at no point since last month’s election has Gantz expressed any intention of forming the reported minority coalition with Labor (6 seats) and, possibly, the Democratic Camp (5 seats).

Netanyahu’s comments also come after an unsourced TV report Thursday that said Gantz was looking at convincing Liberman to support the minority government option.

Chanel 13 said Gantz is reportedly planning to invite representatives of Yisrael Beytenu and Likud to talks on forming a unity government if he is tasked with forming a coalition next week.

Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz speaks during a faction meeting at the Knesset on October 3, 2019. (Emmanuel Dunand/AFP)

Gantz does not expect Likud to show up, however, which he hopes will open the door for Liberman to let him form a minority government, the report said.

Likud’s absence would give Liberman justification to blame Netanyahu’s party for preventing the establishment of a unity government. Liberman would be able to say that one side, Gantz’s Blue and White, had accepted his blueprint for a unity government, while the other, Netanyahu’s Likud, had not.

Gantz would then aim to form a minority government that would secure a Knesset majority with the backing, from outside the coalition, of Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu and the Joint List of predominantly Arab parties.

There was no official confirmation of this or any other of this week’s welter of unsourced TV reports on the possible coalition machinations.

Netanyahu must form a coalition by October 24 or inform President Reuven Rivlin that he has failed to do so. By law, Rivlin could grant him a 14-day extension, but the president is believed unlikely to do so, as the prospect of the premier — who heads a 55-strong bloc (Likud: 32 seats; Shas: 9; United Torah Judaism: 7, and Yemina: 7) in the 120-seat Knesset — making further progress in the current gridlock is seen as slim.

Instead, Rivlin would then need to task another Knesset member with attempting to form a government — with Gantz the probable next candidate, though he is seen as even less likely to succeed in forming a government.

Both Blue and White and Yisrael Beytenu have called for a unity government alongside Likud but without the religious parties. Gantz’s party has also called for Netanyahu to step down as head of Likud due to a possible indictment pending against him in three corruption cases, saying it will not serve under a prime minister facing grave charges of criminal wrongdoing.

Blue and White has said a unity government with Likud could be formed “within an hour” if Netanyahu steps down.

Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman (R) speaks with Yesh Atid chief Yair Lapid at the Knesset on November 16, 2015. (Miriam Alster/ Flash90)

The leading option for a coalition has been a proposal by Rivlin for a unity government in which power would be equally divided between Netanyahu- and Gantz-led blocs, with each of the two men serving two years as prime minister. Rivlin implied, but did not specify, that Netanyahu would take an open-ended leave of absence if he is indicted in one or more of the probes in which he faces charges. Under the arrangement set out by Rivlin, Gantz, as “interim prime minister” in such a scenario, would enjoy all prime ministerial authority.

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz (L), President Reuven Rivlin (C) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) meet at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on September 25, 2019 (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Netanyahu on Thursday extended a new proposal to Gantz to join a unity government that includes the premier’s Likud party and his allies on the religious right.

The offer was quickly dismissed by Gantz as disingenuous, with the Blue and White leader saying Netanyahu “is not seeking unity but immunity,” in a reference to the prime minister’s insistence on retaining the premiership — allegedly so as to avoid having to step down if he is indicted.

The suggestion is based on Rivlin’s proposal for a power-sharing government. It would maintain the status quo on matters of religion and state for a year, while moving forward on a compromise for military conscription for the ultra-Orthodox — an issue that derailed efforts to form a government following April’s national vote.

Netanyahu did not offer to reconsider his insistence that the government include the ultra-Orthodox and hard-right parties — a major impediment for Blue and White.

Gantz dismissed the proposal as “an offer I couldn’t not refuse.” He added: “Even now [Netanyahu] is unwilling to engage in direct negotiations and to acknowledge the fact that the majority of Israeli citizens voted for a liberal unity government, without the extremes.”

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