Netanyahu, Gantz said to weigh fresh partnership; all sides strongly deny notion

TV report claims the two are looking at establishing new government; PM said to water down offer to Bennett after Yamina chief burned his bridges with ‘change bloc’

Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a consultation amid Hamas rocket fire at Israel and IDF counterstrikes, May 11, 2021. (Amos Ben Gersom / GPO)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a consultation amid Hamas rocket fire at Israel and IDF counterstrikes, May 11, 2021. (Amos Ben Gersom / GPO)

A television report Monday said that representatives of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White leader and Defense Minister Benny Gantz are discussing a potential coalition partnership after the conflict with Gaza is over, following to the apparent collapse of the possibility of a coalition led by Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett.

The claim was quickly denied by both sides, with officials in the so-called change bloc claiming Netanyahu had leaked a false story in an attempt to sow discord within the anti-Netanyahu camp.

The Channel 12 report said that the proposal would see Gantz serve as premier first in a rotation deal for a period of 18 months, before handing over to Netanyahu. Netanyahu would serve as alternate prime minister and foreign minister for the first 18 months, and stay at the prime minister’s residence on Balfour Street in Jerusalem. (It was not clear how Netanyahu could serve as foreign minister. Under law, individuals under criminal indictment cannot serve as ministers — though that same rule does not apply to the job of prime minister.)

The two formed a power-sharing government in May of last year, which was marred by constant infighting and dysfunction. It finally collapsed last December, prompting March 23’s inconclusive election. For the past week the two have been overseeing the Israel Defense Forces’ battle against the Hamas terror group in Gaza, reportedly working in close coordination on the handling of the conflict.

The Channel 12 report claimed that, unlike their previous government, the proposed one would not be a power-sharing one, since Gantz’s party won only eight seats in the recent election, compared to Likud’s 30. Blue and White would receive six ministries and the right to veto certain matters, the network said.

Netanyahu is interested in pursuing this option only if he cannot see a path to retaining power via a bid for a new direct election of the prime minister, the report said.

The Prime Minister’s Office rejected the report as untrue, and Blue and White sources told the network that Gantz would not partner with Netanyahu “even if he promises the moon.”

Defense Minister Benny Gantz (left) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the swearing-in ceremony for the 24th Knesset, April 6, 2021. (Knesset spokesperson)

Speaking to Channel 12, officials in the change bloc accused Likud of leaking what they called a false story aimed at breaking up their bloc. The officials said the leak was also aimed at putting pressure on New Hope’s Gideon Sa’ar to join Netanyahu, to avoid the risk of being left in the opposition if a right-wing government is formed.

Yesh Atid party leader Lapid’s mandate to form a government ends on June 2. He and Yamina leader Bennett were on the verge of clinching a coalition deal with the support of the Islamist Ra’am party when the fight with Gaza broke out, leading Ra’am chief Mandour Abbas to back out and Bennett to later declare that the option was now off the table.

Meanwhile, Walla reported Monday that since Bennett appears to have burned his bridges with the change bloc, Netanyahu has significantly watered down his original offer to the right-wing party head.

Yamina party head Naftali Bennett gives a press conference at the Knesset on May 5, 2021 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In their previous round of talks, while Netanyahu still had the government-forming mandate, the prime minister’s party offered Bennett to serve first as premier in a rotational agreement in addition to a merger proposal that would reserve eight spots on the Likud list for Yamina and a pledge to pass legislation instituting term limits for the premier post.

Netanyahu has now rescinded that proposal and is offering “far less,” Walla reported, without giving details of the new proposal.

If Lapid fails to cobble together a coalition during his 28-day window, a majority of lawmakers could try to endorse any Knesset member as prime minister. A leader has never before been elected during that time period in Israel. If that 21-day period fails to yield a coalition, the country would be forced into the unprecedented scenario of a fifth election in two and a half years.

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