What happened: Blue and White leader Benny Gantz said in an interview last night with Israel’s Channel 12 news that he was not ruling out joining a coalition Government led by Benjamin Netanyahu. His comments marked a significant shift from election campaign pledges not to serve in a Government with Netanyahu because of his impending criminal trial.
- Gantz said, “At the moment all options need to be on the table.….to cope with the health, economic and social aspects of the coronavirus crisis and at the same time to preserve Israeli democracy. There are principles, but there are also circumstances of an economic crisis… It would be irresponsible of me to not consider alternatives.”
- Israeli media reported that Gantz and Gabi Ashkenazi were in favour of a unity government with Netanyahu but Yair Lapid and Moshe Ya’alon were opposed, suggesting the Blue and White party may soon break up. Blue and White denied this saying: “Contact with the Likud negotiating team has been terminated this evening. There was no meeting today and, in contrast to reports indicating otherwise, we have not arrived at any agreements. What we have seen today is endless cynical political spin, while the Israeli people are contending with a major crisis. Next week, Likud will see an operational Knesset, working on behalf of the people.”
- President Rivlin held phone conversations yesterday with both sides and warned against holding the Knesset hostage. He told them: “Keep talking and at the same time ensure the proper and ongoing functioning of the Knesset… Keeping the Knesset open is important to Israel’s citizens even more than ever at a time of crisis.”
Context: Benny Gantz has a slim but significant majority of 61-58 (with one abstention) supporting him to form the next government but they are deeply divided.
- The outline of a possible deal could involve Netanyahu serving first as prime minister for at least a year, with Gantz serving as foreign minister before replacing Netanyahu. The senior ministerial portfolios would be divided equally, with reports suggesting Likud have agreed to hand the Defence Ministry, currently held by Naftali Bennett, over to former IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi. Both sides are currently insisting on the justice ministry. It is unclear what, if any, other parties from the centre-left or right wing ultra-orthodox bloc would be asked to join such a grand coalition.
- There is still a significant lack of trust between the parties and Blue and White figures demanding guarantees because they fear Netanyahu may serve his agreed first term as PM and then dismantle the coalition and refuse to hand over to Gantz.
Looking ahead: The Knesset is expected to reconvene on Monday and vote to elect a new Speaker. That would allow Blue and White to take control of Knesset procedure and the legislative agenda. Likud will try and reach a deal with Blue and White before then in order to prevent a process that will see it lose its grip on power.
- Earlier this week Gantz was asked by the President to form a government within 28 days, with the option of a 14 day extension.