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Shas’s Deri calls for ‘national emergency government’ to tackle coronavirus

Blue and White’s Lapid says Netanyahu doesn’t want unity: ‘He has made a decision to go to 4th elections’

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Shas party chairman Interior Minister Aryeh Deri addresses supporters at the Shas party event for the Jewish new year in Jerusalem on September 24, 2019. (Flash90)
Shas party chairman Interior Minister Aryeh Deri addresses supporters at the Shas party event for the Jewish new year in Jerusalem on September 24, 2019. (Flash90)

With Israel’s political stalemate showing no signs of a breakthrough following last week’s inconclusive election, Shas chairman Aryeh Deri said Thursday that the burgeoning coronavirus crisis required the immediate establishment of a “national emergency government” made up of the rival Likud and Blue and White parties.

“A national emergency government must be formed because of the corona[virus],” the interior minister told Army Radio, warning Blue and White “not to play games” while lives are at stake.

“If they replace the Knesset speaker and pass laws against Netanyahu, it will be impossible to talk about a unity government,” he said of recent efforts by the centrist party.

Neither Netanyahu’s Likud party nor Blue and White, headed by Benny Gantz, mustered a majority of Knesset seats in last Monday’s election, and neither has a clear path to a majority coalition, even with the prime minister having the backing of 58 MKs and Likud being the largest party in the 120-seat Knesset.

Composite photo shows Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Blue and White party chief Benny Gantz, right. (Flash90)

Gantz, meanwhile, has been working to put together a minority government made up of Blue and White (33 seats), the hawkish Yisrael Beytenu (7 seats) and dovish Labor-Gesher-Meretz (7 seats), with most or all of the Arab lawmakers of the Joint List (15 seats) giving their support from outside the coalition.

Likud has attempted to portray the Joint List as out of bounds of Israeli politics, terming its members “terror supporters” and citing their opposition to Zionism and some extreme anti-Israel stances by members of Balad, one of the party’s constituent factions.

A minority coalition based on the support of the Joint List, while “not the government we wanted,” is the most responsible way to deal with the coronavirus crisis, Blue and White No. 2 Yair Lapid argued Thursday morning in response to Deri’s call for a unity government.

“In the middle of the crisis, Netanyahu is the one dealing with small politics,” Lapid said. “He has no interest in a unity government. He has decided to go to fourth elections.”

Yair Lapid (Tomer Neuberg/FLASH90)

Lapid said that Israel needs “a wide government to deal with this crisis” but that “the person who needs to lead it is someone who is not starting a trial next week.”

Netanyahu, in November, became Israel’s first sitting prime minister with charges against him, when Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced he would indict him for bribery, fraud and breach of trust — though the charges were only filed officially in January, when the prime minister dropped a bid for Knesset immunity. Netanyahu denies the charges and claims he is the victim of an attempted “political coup” involving the opposition, media, police and state prosecutors.

His trial is set to begin on March 17.

Meanwhile, the Health Ministry on Thursday announced multiple new cases of Israelis found to be carrying the coronavirus, as the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the country climbed to 100.

To curb the spread of the virus in the country, all Israelis returning from overseas are required to quarantine at home for 14 days. Non-Israeli nationals will be allowed into the country until Thursday at 8 p.m., but after that they will be barred entry unless they can demonstrate an ability to self-quarantine for two weeks.

The quarantine measures are among the most dramatic to be introduced by any nation in the intensifying battle against the coronavirus. On February 26, Israel had become the first country in the world to advise its citizens against all non-essential overseas travel.

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