Joint List chief retorts: 'Hey magician, time to disappear'

PM tells Likud Gantz is going for ‘insane’ minority government backed by Arabs

Netanyahu warns of ’emergency,’ says such coalition would be ‘historically dangerous’; Gantz meets Rivlin, says he wants unity, adds that the ’emergency is hundreds of rockets’

President Reuven Rivlin (L) and Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz meet at the President's Residence in Jerusalem, November 16, 2019 (Mark Neiman/GPO)
President Reuven Rivlin (L) and Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz meet at the President's Residence in Jerusalem, November 16, 2019 (Mark Neiman/GPO)

With four days left until Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz’s mandate to form a government ends, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a conference call with Likud ministers and MKs over the weekend, in which he warned of “an emergency situation,” claiming Gantz’s Blue and White party has decided to try and establish a minority government based on the support of Arab majority parties. Netanyahu called on his colleagues to help organize mass public opposition to such a move.

The prime minister also appealed to Blue and White’s Gabi Ashkenazi and Moshe Ya’alon — both of whom, like Gantz, are former IDF chiefs of staff —  to prevent the move, reminding them that some Arab MKs had sought to have them put on trial for war crimes.

Netanyahu told party officials Blue and White’s leaders had made the decision to go for a minority government and were engaged in efforts to convince their party’s more hawkish quarters. It was not clear what Netanyahu’s comments were based on, and there was no statement to that effect by the leaders of Blue and White, which insisted they continued to seek a unity coalition. Netanyahu has made similar assertions on numerous occasions in the past.

A third election, Netanyahu told officials, was “a disaster.” But “a minority government dependent on the (mainly Arab) Joint List is even worse.”

He said such a government, “dependent on supporters of Islamic Jihad and Hamas,” would be “historically dangerous” to the Jewish state.

“We need to rally the public to bring down such a government immediately.”

According to the Ynet news site, Netanyahu added: “We’ll stop a move to form a minority government. Or we will form a powerful opposition that will sweep in millions of Israelis opposed to such a move.”

In a social media video appeal on Saturday evening to Gantz’s allies in Blue and White, former IDF chiefs Ashkenazi and Ya’alon, the prime minister asked: “Are you out of your mind? There’s still time to stop this insanity.”

He urged them to “speak to Benny Gantz… and remind him that those you want as your partners, upon whom you want your government to rely [for support], wanted to have you put on trial, along with other IDF soldiers, for war crimes.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem, October 27, 2019. (Gali Tibbon/Pool Photo via AP)

Likud said an emergency conference would be held Sunday evening to discuss the party’s course of action in the coming week.

Blue and White denied there had been any progress on forming a non-unity government though it did not deny it would seek a “transition government” if talks on unity failed.

“Netanyahu, I see you used the term ’emergency’ because there’s a chance your rule will end soon,” Gantz wrote on Facebook. “Then no. An emergency is hundreds of rockets [being fired] at Israeli citizens,” he said, referring to the week’s clashes between Israel and terrorists in Gaza.

“Understand, I will do everything to stop you from dragging Israelis to a third election,” he said. “I’ve said this all along and I say it again: Come to direct negotiations without your immunity bloc, without tricks and without spins.”

And Joint List chief Ayman Odeh tweeted: “Netanyahu is a cynical politician who lost two elections straight and will leave scorched earth in a desperate attempt to remain in power.

Leader of the Joint list Ayman Odeh (R) and party member Ahmad Tibi arrive for a meeting with party members at the Knesset on September 22, 2019 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“Hey magician,” he said, referring to Netanyahu’s image as a political genius. “It’s time to disappear. Arab and Jewish citizens are more important than you.”

Blue and White no. 2 echoed Gantz’s call, saying Netanyahu should tell his religious parties “that the good of the country comes first, say goodbye nicely and come to direct talks… As long as you’re unwilling to do so, your hysteria is simply the hypocrisy of a man afraid to lose his seat.”

Channel 12 news reported that despite the premier’s ominous warnings, there was little chance of a minority government even if Blue and White attempted to form one, as Yisrael Beytenu was seen as unlikely to support it.

Without the support of both the Arab MKs and Avigdor Liberman, Gantz could not hope to get the idea off the ground.

Gantz met with President Reuven Rivlin Saturday evening, four days before his deadline to form a government expires. The two discussed intensified efforts to reach a compromise that would allow a unity government to be formed.

President Reuven Rivlin and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz meet at the President’s Residence on November 15, 2019 (Mark Neiman/GPO)

“Gantz updated the president on the status of the coalition negotiations and discussed the details of the president’s outline [for a unity coalition], in an attempt to prevent further elections,” a statement from the President’s Residence said after their talks. “The two agreed to remain in touch as necessary.”

Rivlin’s office said Friday that the meeting was scheduled at Gantz’s request and “following conversations between the president and a wide range of political figures regarding the establishment of a government as soon as possible.”

Gantz has until November 20 to form a government.

He asked to meet with Rivlin “to discuss the challenges of forming a government and to seek his advice,” according to a statement on Gantz’s Facebook page.

With few days remaining, Gantz reiterated his commitment to assembling a “broad liberal unity government,” but said he remained open to alternatives.

Gantz was tasked last month by Rivlin with putting together a coalition after Netanyahu failed to do so following elections in September, which left both Blue and White and the premier’s Likud short of a governing majority with their respective allies.

Unity talks have floundered over Netanyahu and his right-wing religious partners’ insistence on negotiating as a joint bloc, a condition rejected by Blue and White, and Gantz’s ruling out of sitting in a government with the Likud leader as he faces corruption charges.

Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz (R) and Yisrael Beytenu chief Avigdor Liberman speak to reporters after meeting in Ramat Gan on November 14, 2019. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Gantz met Thursday with Liberman, whose Yisrael Beytenu party holds the balance of power in the Knesset. Liberman, a right-wing secularist, campaigned on forcing a unity government between Likud and Blue and White that does not include ultra-Orthodox or “messianist” parties if neither could form a government without him after the September 17 vote.

“I really admire Liberman’s adherence to his principles and his desire to form a unity government that I’m also working to establish,” Gantz said in the statement.

Gantz said he hoped to reach an agreement by next week to avoid “unnecessary and costly elections” and blamed Netanyahu for the political impasse.

The Blue and White leader called on Likud’s right-wing allies not to let Netanyahu “drag” the country to a third round of elections in less than a year.

Gantz also cast doubt on Netanyahu’s ability to function full-time as prime minister if indicted.

“Put Israel before everything, come to quick negotiations without the immunity bloc and we’ll be ready for compromises that meet our principles,” he said.

Blue and White party No. 2 MK Yair Lapid speaks at a party faction meeting in the Knesset, October 3, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Hitting back, Likud called on Lapid “to release Gantz from his obligation to the bloc.” The leaders of Blue and White — composed of Gantz’s Israel Resilience party, Lapid’s Yesh Atid and Moshe Ya’alon’s Telem — have reportedly been at odds whether to join a unity government with Netanyahu.

The New Right party also rejected Gantz’s call to part ways with Netanyahu.

“We won’t dismantle the bloc. Any attempt of yours to divide us will fail,” the party said in a statement.

In addition to meeting with Rivlin Saturday, Gantz was expected to meet again with Liberman next week. Netanyahu has invited Liberman for talks on Sunday.

Last weekend, Liberman called on Netanyahu to put aside his negotiating bloc and for Gantz to accept Rivlin’s unity proposal, saying he would enable whichever of them accepted his conditions to form a government.

After meeting with Gantz, Liberman hinted at disagreements at the top of Blue and White, saying that all leaders from the party must announce they accept the unity plan, which would allow Netanyahu to serve as prime minister but temporarily step aside if indicted.

“From Netanyahu we heard clearly ‘no’ — he will not accept the full plan as I proposed. Here I didn’t hear no, but I also didn’t hear yes in a positive way. It’s sorely missing,” Liberman said.

According to a Channel 13 report Thursday, Rivlin’s unity coalition proposal stalled when Netanyahu wouldn’t commit to not seek parliamentary immunity from his corruption investigations.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit is expected to announce whether he will indict Netanyahu, who denies any wrongdoing and has claimed the investigations are an effort by political rivals, the media, prosecutors and law enforcement to remove him from office.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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