PM seeks to nix primaries if 3rd election held, in bid to avoid defections

PM seeks to nix primaries if 3rd election held, in bid to avoid defections

Likud Central Committee chief Haim Katz agrees to push for decision to keep current Knesset roster, as coalition talks falter and new vote looks increasingly likely

File: Haim Katz speaks at the Knesset ent on March 5, 2018 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
File: Haim Katz speaks at the Knesset ent on March 5, 2018 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the chairman of the Likud party’s Central Committee Haim Katz agreed on Tuesday night to push for a party decision that in the event of a fresh national election, Likud will not hold primaries for its Knesset roster, keeping the slate it had in both the April and September votes.

The move is seen as an effort to prevent any possible defections by Likud MKs fearful for their seats in the final days of political jockeying before such an election is called.

It was not immediately clear whether the prime minister would also seek to prevent primaries for the party leadership, which are held separately from those for its Knesset roster. Likud MK Gideon Sa’ar has emerged as potential challenger to Netanyahu in any such race.

It came after a last minute meeting between Netanyahu and Blue and White chief Benny Gantz to discuss a potential unity government appeared to end in failure, with both leaders appearing as entrenched as ever after talks.

Wednesday night is Gantz’s deadline to form a coalition after being tasked with doing so a month ago by President Reuven Rivlin. Netanyahu himself had failed to reach coalition agreements in the previous month.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Yisrael Beytenu party last week proposed a bill to ease the process of splitting up Knesset factions, in an apparent bid to allow members of Likud to jump ship and join a coalition involving Blue and White and Yisrael Beytenu, Channel 12 reported at the weekend.

Current law dictates that at least a third of a party’s parliamentary faction must wish to split from the main faction in order for such a move to be allowed. In Likud’s case this would require 11 legislators to break ranks.

The bill by Yisrael Beytenu MK Oded Forer would seek to allow a split with a lower threshold, the report said.

But the network noted that the odds of passing such a bill and convincing enough right-wing MKs to defect were extremely low.

Gantz has until Wednesday at midnight to form a coalition. After that he will lose the mandate to do so, and the Knesset will enter a period of 21 days in which 61 MKs can declare support for a candidate of their choice to form a government. At that point, a minority government will cease being an option.

If no candidate is agreed upon after those 21 days are through, Israel must by law go to a new election, its third in less than a year.

Over the weekend Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a conference call with Likud ministers and MKs, in which he warned of “an emergency situation,” claiming Blue and White had decided to try and establish a minority government based on the outside support of Arab majority parties. Netanyahu called on his colleagues to help organize mass public opposition to such a move.

Illustrative: Members of the Likud party central committee vote during a gathering of the Likud Central Committee in Tel Aviv in 2013. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

A third election, Netanyahu told officials, was “a disaster.” But “a minority government dependent on the 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.

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.

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

Unity coalition negotiations have stalled amid Netanyahu’s making his agreement to join a government conditional on the inclusion of his right-wing and religious political allies, and Gantz’s refusal to serve under a prime minister suspected of criminal wrongdoing. Netanyahu is expected to be indicted in a trio of criminal cases against him within days.

Rivlin’s proposal for a power-sharing rotation between Netanyahu and Gantz would see Netanyahu serve as prime minister first, but take a leave of absence from the position if and when he is indicted.

But according to a recent Channel 13 report the proposal stalled over Netanyahu’s refusal to commit to not seek parliamentary immunity from prosecution.

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