Rivlin said to advise Gantz against government propped up by largely Arab party

President reportedly told Blue and White head he doesn’t oppose a Joint List-backed minority coalition in principle, but it would have trouble functioning, won’t heal Israeli rifts

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)

President Reuven Rivlin has urged Blue and White chief Benny Gantz not to form a minority government dependent on the outside support of Arab-majority parties, according to the Kan public broadcaster.

Sources who attended a Saturday meeting at the President’s Residence said Rivlin was not opposed in principle to the Joint List alliance propping up such a government from the outside, but was concerned that a minority coalition would be unable to function and would do little to repair divides in Israeli society.

During his meeting with Gantz, Rivlin continued to push for a broad unity government with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, the Monday report said.

Gantz and Rivlin’s office declined to comment on the report, but the public broadcaster said the Blue and White chief would likely refrain from openly supporting a minority government in light of the president’s opposition.

Rivlin last month tasked Gantz with assembling 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.

Blue and White chair Benny Gantz (C) meeting with leaders of the Joint List alliance, Ayman Odeh (L) and Ahmed Tibi, October 31, 2019. (Ofek Avshalom)

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.

Rivlin has suggested a power-sharing deal whereby Netanyahu would serve as prime minister for half the term followed by Gantz. The proposal would see Netanyahu take a leave of absence from the position if and when he is indicted in three pending corruption cases.

Gantz has been non-committal on Rivlin’s outline due, in large part, to concerns about when or whether Netanyahu would take a leave of absence.

Gantz has until Wednesday to clinch a coalition, after which Knesset members have a further 21 days to choose a candidate to be given the mandate or decide to head back to elections — the third in less than a year.

Though the former IDF chief of staff has no realistic path to forming a majority coalition without Likud, he could presumably form a minority government, provided Avigdor Liberman came on board, with the external backing of the predominantly Arab Joint List.

Gantz has met with leaders of the Joint List recently, but has not said whether he supports the establishment of a minority government with the support of the Arab-majority parties. Arab politicians have said they haven’t received a concrete proposal from Gantz for such a move.

A minority government would hinge on the support of Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu. Liberman, who has previously campaigned on tough policies against Arab Israelis and who regularly denounces Joint List MKs as illegitimate political figures, said on Sunday that any minority government would be a “disaster” for the country.

Joint List chief Ayman Odeh has called on Gantz to form a minority government that includes the Arabs, saying that even if it would quickly fall, such a “courageous” move would be worth it for the single purpose of ending Netanyahu’s term as prime minister.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz at a memorial ceremony marking 24 years since the assassination of former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, in the Knesset on November 10, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

However the likelihood of that — slim from the start — diminished even further last week, with several days of Gaza fighting highlighting the insurmountable differences between the parties on security issues.

While Blue and White threw its full support behind the targeted killing of senior Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror chief Baha Abu al-Ata and the fighting that ensued, Joint List party members held angry protests, calling the operation a “war crime.”

Meanwhile, Netanyahu and his allies have been assailing the prospect of a minority government propped up by Arab parties as an “existential threat” to the Jewish state.

On Sunday, Netanyahu accused Joint List lawmakers of seeking to “destroy the country,” telling supporters at a rally aimed at “stopping the dangerous minority government that is reliant on terror supporters.”

Netanyahu’s campaign is seemingly aimed at leaving Gantz with no choice but to agree to a unity government with the Likud leader remaining as prime minister or admit his failure to form a coalition and risk new elections.

This week or early next week will also likely see Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announce his decision on whether to charge the premier in three corruption cases, according to reports, further complicating coalition efforts, since Gantz has vowed not to sit in a government under a prime minister facing criminal charges.

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