Netanyahu said seeking rotation with Gantz, but Blue and White says PM must go
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Netanyahu said seeking rotation with Gantz, but Blue and White says PM must go

Yair Lapid says party will support canceling elections if Likud chooses another leader as talk of scrapping repeat poll intensifies

People walk by election campaign billboards showing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, alongside Blue and White party leaders, from left to right, Moshe Ya'alon, Benny Gantz, Yair Lapid and Gabi Ashkenazi, in Tel Aviv, April 3, 2019. Hebrew on billboards reads, left, "A strong Likud, a strong Israel," and on the right, "Every vote counts, Blue and White victory." (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
People walk by election campaign billboards showing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, alongside Blue and White party leaders, from left to right, Moshe Ya'alon, Benny Gantz, Yair Lapid and Gabi Ashkenazi, in Tel Aviv, April 3, 2019. Hebrew on billboards reads, left, "A strong Likud, a strong Israel," and on the right, "Every vote counts, Blue and White victory." (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

Likud officials are reportedly seeking a deal to form a unity government with centrist rivals that would see upcoming elections canceled, but such a move would only be possible if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stepped down, the Blue and White party said Wednesday.

The Kan public broadcaster reported Wednesday that senior officials from the Likud party have proposed to their Blue and White counterparts that the two parties form a unity government with Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz rotating in the role of prime minister.

The report came as talk of canceling elections has ramped up in recent days, though the move remains legally fraught.

Blue and White co-leader Yair Lapid said Wednesday his party would support calling off the repeat poll and leading a unity government, but only if Netanyahu, who is facing indictments in three corruption cases, steps down from his leadership position.

Blue and White party co-chairman MK Yair Lapid attends the annual Gay Pride Parade in Jerusalem, on June 6, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

“It is not a problem to form a unity government,” Lapid wrote on Twitter. “One person, and one alone, should step aside. To go and take care of his indictments. Likud should appoint whoever they want — Yuli [Edelstein], Gideon [Sa’ar] or Israel [Katz]. We will have a unity government of at least 75 lawmakers, led by the Blue and White party. Stable. Decent. Functional.”

Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz at a faction meeting at the Knesset on June 12, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Netanyahu announced Tuesday he would “consider” a proposal by Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein to cancel the September 17 vote, called last month after Netanyahu failed to form a coalition following the April election.

According to Kan, the overtures to form a rotation with Gantz have reportedly been made with the approval of Netanyahu, in a repeat of a deal reportedly offered to Blue and White on the day the 21st Knesset was dissolved last month.

According to Kan, Netanyahu offered Gantz a rotation deal for the premiership last month, in a Hail Mary bid to build a majority coalition. Gantz turned down the offer, the report said. Likud denied the report.

Likud MK Miki Zohar, a Netanyahu loyalist, appeared to confirm the reports, telling the broadcaster that “we have currently not ruled anything out to prevent this election.”

“We did not want these elections from the outset. Let’s look at this objectively and put aside the background noise — you can see the prime minister’s attempts to prevent elections, he’s going very far,” he said.

It is not clear how such a rotation would work, with Gantz and Lapid having already agreed to split the premiership.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with speaker of the Knesset, Yuli Edelstein during a Likud faction meeting at the Knesset on October 27, 2014. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Channel 12 news reported Tuesday that Edelstein had launched a “substantial” push to revoke the new national vote through Knesset legislation, but it is not clear whether such a move is legally possible, after the legislature voted in late May to disband.

The network reported that Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit had earlier told politicians that calling off the vote wasn’t legally possible.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with Gideon Sa’ar during a Likud party meeting at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem on March 11, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

However, according to Channel 12, a workaround plan could see the Knesset Presidium convened to cancel parliament’s current hiatus. A new law would then be introduced that enables parliament to cancel elections.

However, such legislation would require broad support of at least 80 MKs, according to the channel, which would mean gaining the support of Blue and White and other allies.

Opposition leaders expressed outraged Tuesday night by the news that Netanyahu was looking into the possibility of calling off the elections he himself pushed through last month, alternately casting the reports as “spin” or a desperate political gambit.

“The news tonight makes it clear: Netanyahu is afraid of the public’s judgement… There is no negotiation with Blue and White,” said Gantz.

Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party, whose political wrangling with Netanyahu precipitated the new elections, said: “What is guiding Netanyahu tonight is not the good of the nation but the fear of losing power.”

“Yisrael Beytenu will only support a broad government made up of the three parties: Yisrael Beytenu, Likud and Blue and White,” the party said in a statement. Liberman has previously said he’d force Likud to join with Blue and White.

Former Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman speaks during his Yisrael Beytenu party session at the Knesset in Jerusalem on May 27, 2019. (MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP)

Ayman Odeh, head of former Hadash-Ta’al and the prospective leader of the renewed alliance of all four Arab parties, said: “Netanyahu initiated an election and we are heading toward it with our head held high.”

The leaders of Kulanu and Union of Right Wing Parties on Tuesday backed scrapping the elections, despite voting in favor of the new vote a month ago.

Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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