Gantz: Netanyahu will be 'captive to his extreme partners'

Outgoing coalition heads to meet Tuesday in bid to close ranks after election loss

Lapid seeks united opposition despite bad blood with partners following failed bid to retain power; Netanyahu set to receive mandate to form coalition on Sunday

Israel's security cabinet meets to discuss the Israel-Lebanon maritime border agreement, October 12, 2022. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)
Israel's security cabinet meets to discuss the Israel-Lebanon maritime border agreement, October 12, 2022. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Outgoing coalition party chairs are scheduled to meet on Tuesday in preparation to sit in the opposition, as Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu will be tasked by President Isaac Herzog with forming a government at the beginning of next week.

On Friday, Prime Minister Yair Lapid invited National Unity chair Benny Gantz, Yisrael Beytenu’s Avigdor Liberman, Labor’s Merav Michaeli and Ra’am’s Mansour Abbas to meet and discuss their strategy going into the opposition, amid animosity from his coalition partners over their election loss.

“The goal is to prepare and to think together how to manage the opposition,” Lapid’s office said in a statement. The outgoing premier and his outgoing coalition allies were defeated in elections last week by parties loyal to Netanyahu, including the far-right Religious Zionism alliance, which contains the extremist Otzma Yehudit and Noam factions.

The Labor party has accused Lapid of running a selfish campaign strategy that built up his Yesh Atid party at the expense of Labor and the left-wing Meretz party, which fell below the threshold and out of the Knesset. Michaeli, on the other hand, faced criticism for having rejected a joint run with Meretz.

Ayman Odeh’s Hadash-Ta’al — which is also in the Knesset’s opposition but did not sit in the current coalition — was notably left out of the invitation.

In the lead-up to the election, Lapid promised he would not sit in a coalition with the joint slate, and condemned remarks by MK Aida Touma-Sliman referring to five slain members of a Palestinian terror group as “martyrs” and asserting that their “resistance” was a response to “the occupation.”

File: Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid meets (center) with Joint List leaders Ayman Odeh (left) and Ahmad Tibi in the Knesset on April 19, 2021. (Courtesy)

Later Friday, Gantz released a statement hitting out at Netanyahu and the expected new government.

“We must fight so the State of Israel won’t make strategic mistakes that harm its diplomatic standing and defensive strength — mistakes that are liable to harm Israeli society, Israel’s standing in the world and, God forbid, also cost lives,” he said.

“I want to hope that Netanyahu won’t allow this, but I’m not sure it’s in his control. His personal matters will overtake what is good and right for the country, and therefore he is captive to his extreme and inexperienced partners,” Gantz added, referring to the former premier’s ongoing trial on graft charges.

Gantz called for a “public and parliamentary fight” against the new government, while also seeming to take a swipe at Lapid over the election results.

“There were those who tried to lead these elections to a tie, who thought the approach of being the biggest party would succeed in bringing it about,” he said. “Those who knew they are at a disadvantage need to know how to spur the campaign.”

On Thursday, Lapid appealed to his outgoing coalition partners to stand united in what he described as a struggle for the future of Israeli democracy, following the sharp rise of Religious Zionism.

“We are embarking on a parliamentary, legal and civic struggle, and most of all a fateful struggle for the future of the country,” Lapid wrote in a statement. “Energy must not be wasted on internal quarrels. If we want to stop the madness, the opposition needs to work together in full coordination.”

Liberal voices in Israel are concerned over the possible agenda of the prospective government, including fears it will pursue an agenda of greater religious curbs in the public sphere, and blur the separation of powers.

Some of Netanyahu’s expected ultra-Orthodox and far-right partners have said they won’t join him in a government without a commitment to passing a so-called Override Clause, which would allow the Knesset to pass legislation even if it had been struck down by the High Court as violating the country’s quasi-constitutional Basic Laws.

Addressing the bad blood with parties in his bloc, Lapid wrote: “After a loss in the elections there is always fallout, there is always anger.”

“It’s human and understandable, but we have a much more important mission. We must join forces in the fight for our beloved country. In the Knesset, in the streets, in all possible arenas.”

Even before the elections, Lapid and Gantz had competed over who had the better chance at forming the next government.

Lapid said that lessons could be learned from the way the opposition acted during the last government, when it presented a unified policy of systematically voting against coalition on bills, including those it ideologically supported.

President Isaac Herzog meets with representatives of Likud on November 9, 2022 (President’s Residence)

Herzog on Friday concluded formal consultations with all parties in the Knesset to hear their recommendations for who should form the next government. Netanyahu received the support of parties holding 64 seats in the 120-seat Knesset and will be to be officially tasked with the job on Sunday.

Gantz’s party, National Unity, told Herzog it would remain in the opposition and declined to recommend any candidate to form the next government, saying that presumptive incoming prime minister Netanyahu would lead a bad government and that current prime minister Lapid lacks the numbers to do so.

Yisrael Beytenu, Ra’am and Hadash-Ta’al all declined to recommend anyone for the post. Only Yesh Atid and Labor recommended Lapid as their candidate to form the next government.

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