Netanyahu vows not to partner with Gantz’s National Unity party

As defense minister tries to position himself as alternative to Netanyahu and Lapid, Lapid says coalition should be formed by ‘one of the two major parties’

Carrie Keller-Lynn is a former political and legal correspondent for The Times of Israel

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and Defense Minister Benny Gantz hold a press conference in Tel Aviv on July 27, 2020. (Tal Shahar/Pool/Flash90)
Then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and Defense Minister Benny Gantz hold a press conference in Tel Aviv on July 27, 2020. (Tal Shahar/Pool/Flash90)

With two weeks remaining until the November 1 election, opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu declared on Tuesday that his Likud party would not form a government in partnership with Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s National Unity party.

Netanyahu said in a videotaped statement that Gantz and Prime Minister Yair Lapid were “on the left” and that Likud “will not go with them, in a rotational premiership or in any other way.”

Lapid also made a rare swipe against Gantz on Tuesday, rejecting speculation that the defense minister could assume the premiership if neither the Netanyahu-led bloc nor the center-left bloc led by Lapid wins a clear majority after the elections. “One of the two major parties [Likud or Yesh Atid] should form the next government,” Lapid asserted at a meeting of his Yesh Atid party’s faction meeting.

Gantz has tried to position himself as a third possibility for prime minister should Netanyahu and Lapid, both of them his former partner, fail to assemble a coalition. He is currently allied with the right-wing New Hope party led by Gideon Sa’ar.

In his comments Tuesday, Netanyahu also tied Australia’s surprise decision to no longer recognize West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel to statements by Gantz and Lapid regarding the possibility of a Palestinian state.

Prime Minister Yair Lapid (L), Defense Minister Benny Gantz (C) and Opposition Leader Benjamin Netanyahu (R) (Flash90)

“Is it any wonder that Australia canceled its decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel when Gantz says that ‘there is a place for a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem’ and Lapid says that he ‘wants to establish a Palestinian state?’” Netanyahu asked, quoting statements made by Gantz in December 2020 and Lapid last month.

With polls seeing a continued stalemate, blocs in the current election are focusing their efforts on raising turnout in the critical 14 days left before Israelis head to the ballot box. Calling for Likud voters to “not stay at home,” Netanyahu reasserted that if he wins enough seats, he will form a right-wing government “with our natural partners — Shas, United Torah Judaism and Religious Zionism.”

Netanyahu’s comments came a day after he reportedly slighted political partner Itamar Ben Gvir of the far-right Religious Zionism at a campaign event in Petah Tikvah.

MK Itamar Ben Gvir seen during a plenum session in the Knesset on June 20, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Ben Gvir, who is expected to win a ministerial seat in a Likud-led government, reportedly was asked to leave the stage before Netanyahu stepped on to it, in order to prevent a picture of the two together.

According to an Army Radio report on Wednesday morning, a Netanyahu adviser told Ben Gvir that such a picture would hurt Netanyahu’s chances of forming a “broad government” after the election.

A broad government would necessitate including a party outside of Netanyahu’s self-declared right-wing camp.

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