Religious slates put kibosh on minority coalition as Gantz said to ease stance

Religious slates put kibosh on minority coalition as Gantz said to ease stance

Bennett and Shaked refuse to sign onto PM initiative, calling it unnecessary; Gantz said prepared to accept Rivlin’s Blue and White-Likud unity government proposal

Jacob Magid is the settlements correspondent for The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with right-wing and Haredi faction leaders at his office in Jerusalem on September 18, 2019. (Courtesy Likud)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with right-wing and Haredi faction leaders at his office in Jerusalem on September 18, 2019. (Courtesy Likud)

The leaders of three religious parties on Wednesday signed onto a pledge put forward by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in which they vowed not to join a minority coalition backed by the Joint List alliance of majority-Arab parties.

The move came as reports swirled over the possibility of the creation of a minority government led by the centrist Blue and White and supported from the outside by the Joint List and the right-wing Yisrael Beytenu faction. A report Wednesday also suggested that Blue and White head Benny Gantz could be mulling joining a government headed by Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu, as coalition talks continued to appear to stagnate.

The ultra-Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism along with the national religious Jewish Home and National Union parties all agreed to sign onto the pledge vowing to stay away from the minority coalition, Netanyahu’s spokesman said in a statement Thursday.

The statement added that New Right leader Naftali Bennett was the only right-wing slate leader who didn’t initial the document because he was in the United States.

However, Channel 13 reported that Bennett along with fellow New Right MK Ayelet Shaked had actually refused to sign onto the pledge, deeming it “unnecessary.”

Bennett tweeted against such a scenario hypothesized in Netanyahu’s pledge hours earlier on Wednesday. The second clause of the pledge signed by religious parties states they’ll only join a government led by Netanyahu along with the other right-wing parties as well as Blue and White if Gantz’s party were to join such a coalition.

Ayelet Shaked and Naftali Bennett (L) at a press conference in Ramat Gan announcing Shaked as the new leader of the New Right party, July 21, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

At no point since last month’s election has Gantz expressed any intention in forming a minority coalition with Labor and the Democratic Camp (44 seats in total) with the outside support of the Joint List and with Yisrael Beytenu agreeing not to vote to topple the government, as outlined in the Netanyahu initiated pledge.

The idea has largely been raised by reports in the Israel Hayom daily, which is widely viewed as a mouthpiece for Netanyahu.

Netanyahu has just over a week to cobble together a coalition before President Reuven Rivlin is expected to task Gantz with forming a government, with talks reportedly at loggerheads.

On Wednesday evening, Channel 12 reported that Gantz is warming up to the idea of serving in a coalition along with Netanyahu, despite vowing not to do so during the election campaign.

According to the network, Gantz has been telling confidantes that his party will “hold their noses for a number of months” and adopt President Reuven Rivlin’s proposal for a power-sharing compromise.

President Reuven Rivlin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz shake hands at the memorial ceremony for the late president Shimon Peres, at the Mount Herzl cemetery in Jerusalem, on September 19, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Rivlin had suggested a unity government in which power would be equally divided and Netanyahu and Gantz would each serve two years as prime minister. Rivlin implied, but did not specify, that Netanyahu would take an open-ended leave of absence if he is indicted in one or more of the probes in which he faces charges. Under the arrangement set out by Rivlin, Gantz, as “interim prime minister” in such a scenario, would enjoy all prime ministerial authority.

Hebrew media has speculated that an indictment against Netanyahu will be filed before the end of the year. Meaning that in Rivlin’s proposal, Gantz would only have to serve under Netanyahu for a month or two before replacing the Likud leader.

“At the end of the day, Netanyahu has an expiration date,” Channel 12 quoted Gantz as telling confidantes.

Gantz is thought to face a tough time forming a government of his own because of an earlier pledge signed by the ultra-Orthodox and right-wing parties to only join a Netanyahu-led government.

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz (L), President Reuven Rivlin (C) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) meet at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on September 25, 2019 (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Netanyahu has sought to press Blue and White to join a coalition led by him and including right-wing and Haredi parties. Gantz has so far refused to sit in a coalition with Netanyahu as long as the Likud leader faces corruption indictments, and is also unwilling to join a government comprised of hard-right and ultra-Orthodox parties. Blue and White has said a unity government with Likud could be formed “within an hour” if Netanyahu steps down.

Netanyahu’s deadline for trying to form a governing coalition is October 24. At that point, Rivlin may grant Netanyahu a 14-day extension, though this is seen as unlikely due to his low chances of success.

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