Gantz Does About Face, Moves Toward Unity Government With Netanyahu, Likud; Labor, Gesher To Join

Benny Gantz, leader of the opposition party Blue and White, shocked supporters by moving towards a unity government with interim Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Gantz was elected speaker of the Knesset, signaling a likely unity government. Gantz told the Knesset, “These are unusual times and they call for unusual decisions. That’s why I intend to explore the formation of a national emergency government.” Gantz cited the COVID-19 crisis and the need not to drag the country towards a fourth round of elections during the pandemic as the basis for his decision. Reported by The Guardian. Read more…

The door was opened for Gantz to become speaker after former speaker Yuli Edelstein, a Netanyahu supporter, resigned rather than obey an Israeli supreme court order for him to reopen the Knesset and hold an election for a new speaker—an election he was sure to lose. Edelstein had closed the Knesset due to coronavirus fears. Critics say Edelstein was thwarting democracy. Reported by The Guardian. Read more…

Gantz’s move towards a unity government angered his supporters. Gadeer Mreeh, a Druze lawmaker from Israel’s Arab Druze minority said, “A leader does not betray his principles and his electorate … I will not sit one day under the corrupt [premier].” Reported by Reuters. Read more…

Also reported by Fox News. Read more…

U.S. President Donald Trump telephoned Netanyahu to congratulate him on being the one to form Israel’s next government. Reported by Times of Israel.Read more…

Gantz defended his decision in a Facebook post, saying he was at peace with it because “I did what my nation needs.” Continuing, Gantz said, “These are unusual times. Israel is in a state of emergency. Hundreds of thousands of families are hunkering down in their homes. There is a real sense of emergency in the face of a health threat that is taking human life and in the face the threat of economic devastation … This is the time for leaders to choose what is right and put the lingering issues and personal scores aside.” Gantz also praised his former partners, Yair Lapid and Moshe Ya’alon, in the now-defunct Blue and White party, saying they were “patriotic” and “principled.” Reported by The Times of Israel. Read more…

Gantz also addressed Lapid and Ya’alon in a separate tweet, explaining, “At the end of the day, I believe we must not drag Israel to a fourth election at such a challenging time, when the country is dealing with the coronavirus crisis and its fallout. We disagree on that point.” He complimented the two lawmakers, stating, “In my eyes, you will always be patriots who love the country and act on behalf of it wherever they are.” Earlier, Lapid had said, “The coronavirus crisis doesn’t give us the right or permission to abandon our values … We promised not to sit under a prime minister with three criminal indictments. We promised not to sit in a coalition of extremists and extortionists. We said we wouldn’t allow anyone to undermine Israel’s democracy. And on this week of all weeks, in which the attacks on the justice system were at their worst, a prize is given to those who disobey the law. A prize to criminality. You can’t crawl into a government like that and tell us you did it for the good of the country.” Ya’alon was more subdued, saying that Gantz’s “decision to crawl into Netanyahu’s government, which represents everything that we oppose, is disappointing to say the very least.” Reported by The Times of Israel. Read more…

Israeli media reports also suggested that the Labor party would join Gantz in forming a government with Netanyahu, along with MK Itzik Shmuli and the Gesher party’s MK Orly Levy-Abekasis. There is no chance, however, Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman will follow Gantz into a Netanyahu led government, said a source close to Liberman. Reported by The Times of Israel. Read more…

In fact, Liberman blasted the developing unity deal, saying his party would stay in the opposition. He characterized any unity government that included the interim prime minster as only another Netanyahu government, saying, “unlike others, we have no intention of deviating from our path or the promises we made to the public that voted for us.” Reported by The Times of Israel. Read more…

Netanyahu and Gantz worked overnight the last weekend in March trying to iron out the details of a new unity government. A joint statement from the two the following day stated that they had reached “understandings and significant progress.” In a video released before the meeting, Netanyahu told Israelis, “We’re on the way to a unity government; we will join forces for you, for our country.” Reported by The Times of Israel. Read more…

More Reported by i24 News. Read more…

One thing seems certain, current Health Minister Yaakov Litzman will remain in his post. Gantz had demanded that Litzman be dismissed but backed down after Netanyahu offered the justice ministry to Gantz’s party. Read more…

Litzman has been under fire for his response to the coronavirus. Litzman chairs the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party. Litzman has become so controversial that a group of senior Israeli medical officials have addressed a letter to Gantz and Netanyahu urging that Litzman be dismissed and replaced with a medical professional. Reported by i24 News. Read more…

The unity government may see as many as 30 ministries, 15 for the the Likud, Yamina, United Torah Judaism and Shas parties, and 15 for Gantz’s party and its possible allies, Labor and Gesher. Gantz justified his decision to join forces with Netanyahu in an op-ed for The Times of Israel, saying, “At this time of crisis, I had no choice but to put politics aside and choose the only path that allows us to avoid fourth elections.” Reported by The Times of Israel. Read more…

However, achieving a unity government is proving more difficult. While some were saying the party would be formed as early as last Monday, others say squabbles within Netanyahu’s bloc were complicating the negotiations. The disputes center over some of the cabinet posts and who will be the Knesset’s next speaker. Gantz’s faction is demanding the lion’s share of the cabinet’s top positions. Gantz’s coalition has also rejected a request that former speaker Yuli Edelstein be re-appointed. Reported by The Times of Israel. Read more…

Meanwhile, Likud MK Gideon Sa’ar is arguing against a large government with 30 ministry portfolios. “Fifteen ministries for the 58 seats of the right-wing bloc seems like a reasonable or even modest key, but 15 ministries for a faction with 15 seats is completely unrealistic,” Sa’ar said in a recent interview. “An evenly balanced government does not justify having an equal number of ministers.” Sa’ar says the key to a smaller government rests with Gantz, who should demand fewer ministries for his faction. Reported by The Times of Israel. Read more…

A draft of the unity agreement shows Netanyahu would remain prime minister for 18 months, with Gantz in an “acting prime minister” role, and the two would then swap for the next 18-months. Netanyahu would live at the current official prime minister’s residence, while Gantz would have another “official” residence elsewhere. Some have criticized the building of an expensive new residence for Gantz, but Gantz, for his part, says he will continue to live at his current address. Likud called the report “fake news.” Reported by The Times of Israel. Read more…

A unity deal is proving more elusive by the day, however. Netanyahu’s supporters are less than happy that he has promised two important ministries, defense and justice, to Gantz. Both are critical to their aspirations of holding on to power. Yamina has even threatened to leave the coalition rather than join a government that would not annex the West Bank. Gantz, for his part, can’t return to his former allies; his only way is forward in a deal with Netanyahu. Reported by The Times of Israel. Read more…

The Labor party has ended its partnership with the left-wing Meretz party, in preparation to joining a unity government with Netanyahu’s Likud and what is left of Gantz’s Blue and White. While Labor chairman Amir Peretz is set to become a minister in the new government, the only other Labor party member to win a seat in the Knesset, Merav Michaeli, said she “will not be part of any move that will advance the entry of the Labor party into the corrupt Netanyahu government.” Reported by The Times of Israel. Read more…

At the end of the first week in April, Gantz and Netanyahu remained in negotiations, with Netanyahu currently quarantined because of COVID-19, and Gantz talking to the interim prime minister from Netanyahu’s patio. The meeting was again described as “positive” where “understandings were reached.” Reported by The Times of Israel. Read more…