Gantz: I’m determined to have broad unity government, not third elections

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Benny Gantz’s remarks reflected a deep frustration with the Likud and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
By Lahav Harkov- The  Jerusalem Post

Blue and White and Likud continued to disparage one another and express extreme skepticism about the possibility of building a coalition, even as the parties held talks to form a unity government.

The negotiating teams for the two large parties met on Thursday morning in Ramat Gan and plan to meet again on Sunday. Blue and White leaders Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid joined the negotiators for part of the meeting.

Speaking at an event for party activists Thursday night, Gantz said he wants “a broad, liberal unity government – or any other way to form a government…I will make every effort to make progress…I am determined to have a government and not an election.”

But Gantz’s further remarks reflected a deep frustration with the Likud and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Gantz railed against Justice Minister Amir Ohana for giving a speech in which he claimed there was a conspiracy in the State Attorney’s Office against Netanyahu, saying: “Everyone has a right to fight to prove his innocence, but what is happening in recent days must stop…Netanyahu needs to hit the brakes fast. The things Justice Minister Ohana said crossed every line and we will make sure they don’t continue.”

A source in the negotiations said Blue and White openly opposed the Likud’s attacks on the legal system for the past year, so while they’re disappointed in Ohana, his speech didn’t have a real impact on negotiations.

As for the 55-seat bloc of religious and right-wing parties, which remains steadfastly behind Netanyahu, Gantz said he is determined to lead a government and not be “excess baggage.”

Another senior Blue and White source said major problem is that the party does not trust Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to stick to the terms of a rotation agreement for the premiership, saying: “If Netanyahu is first, no one will be second…No one trusts him not to go back on his promises.”

“If Bibi wasn’t head of Likud now, we would have a government,” the source said. “He seems to want a third election.”

A poll in Jerusalem Post sister publication Ma’ariv found that if a third election takes place in less than a year, most of the public – 52% – would blame Netanyahu, followed by 21% who would think Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman is at fault, 19% who pin the blame on Lapid and 8% on Gantz.

The poll also showed that not much would change in the event of a third election. Blue and White would get 34 seats and Likud 33, one more for each part. The Joint List would get one less seat, bringing it to 12. Shas and Yisrael Beytenu would remain as they are, with 9 and 8 seats, respectively, and UTJ would lose one seat and have 6. Yamina – which split into Bayit Yehudi and New Right after the election – would have 6 seats instead of 7, and Democratic Union would remain the same at 5. The poll was conducted on Wednesday and Thursday and has a 4.1% margin of error.

Likud chief negotiator Yariv Levin said after the talks that Blue and White wants a minority government supported by the Joint List and not a unity government.

“We are coming out of the meeting with the feeling that these are fake negotiations, a Blue and White show for the media and a pleasant conversation that is only meant to pass the time,” he said.

The real negotiations, Levin said, took place in Gantz’s meeting with Joint List leader Ayman Odeh and MK Ahmed Tibi later Thursday, in which they will try to “establish a minority government with the Arabs that is extremist and dangerous.”

“As long as they do not abandon this foolish idea, these talks are a show and fake,” he added.

The Likud negotiator expressed hope that in Sunday’s meeting Blue and White will “abandon the lunatic option” and accept the “president’s plan” that would allow Gantz to be prime minister while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu takes an extended leave to handle his legal woes.

Levin also called Gantz and Lapid’s presence in the meeting a “PR stunt” meant to hide that they don’t want a unity government or to follow the president’s plan.

A minority coalition with outside support from the Joint List has been a controversial option among Blue and White MKs, and some in the party’s right flank have spoken out against it. There was a heated argument on the subject in a Blue and White faction meeting this week, with some saying the idea of building a coalition relying on anti-Zionist votes should not even be entertained as a negotiating tactic and others saying all options must be considered.

When it comes to a minority government, one Blue and White source told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday that any possibility should be considered to get Netanyahu to “pack his bags and leave” the Prime Minister’s Office. He said it is always possible that once the minority government is established and lasts for a period of time, other Zionist parties will join it and form a majority.

Blue and White’s spokesperson said Gantz’s meeting with Odeh and Tibi “was held in a positive and substantive atmosphere and discussions focused on important issues to the Arab society, particularly civil issues which Gantz made clear need to be addressed in all events,” meaning, regardless of whether the Joint List is supporting their coalition.

Odeh tweeted that they discussed burning issues for Arab society and the shared issues for all citizens of the country.

“We remain faithful to the values of peace and equality and welcome the Likud’s hysteria,” Odeh said.

Meanwhile, Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman ruled out any possibility of joining a minority government with the Joint List, effectively killing that option.

“First of all, it is clear that the Joint List is a fifth column – not in scare quotes, but literally,” Liberman told KAN Bet. “The whole election we said there is only one option, a unity government, period. We will continue with everything that we promised to the voters.”

Still, Liberman argued that Netanyahu wants another election and has ignored all of his party’s overtures.

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz has 20 days left to form a government before the mandate to do so goes to the Knesset, which will then have 21 days for a majority of its members to back a candidate for prime minister. If that does not happen, a third election within a year will be called.

Ahead of Thursday’s meeting, Likud and Blue and White seemed as far apart as ever, with sources on both sides saying they don’t see a path to a coalition, making a third election likely.

Levin said that Gantz has shown willingness to compromise after meeting with Netanyahu, but the rest of Blue and White’s quadripartite leadership, which also includes Yair Lapid, Moshe Ya’alon and Gabi Ashkenazi, pushed back, leading Gantz to reverse course.

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