JERUSALEM (JNS) — Coalition talks continue with Blue and White Party leader Benny Gantz, who is trying to use the most of the 28 days that Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin has given him to form a coalition. While Gantz has been holding many meetings, the possibility of him succeeding to form a government seems to be becoming increasingly impossible.
Gantz, who only has 44 mandates in his immediate bloc (Blue and White, Labor, Democratic Union) has reached out to the Likud Party in the attempt to form a national unity government. The negotiating teams for Blue and White, and Likud, met for a second time; not only was no progress made, but the two seemed to use the meeting as an opportunity to attack one another.
Likud negotiator Minister of Jerusalem Affairs Ze’ev Elkin told JNS that “Blue and White is not really interested in a unity government. They want to form a minority government with the support of the Joint Arab List.”
The second negotiator, Israel Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, went even further, mockingly offering his knowledge of Arabic to serve as a translator in Gantz’s meeting with the leaders of the Joint List.
Blue and White, however, pointed a finger at Likud as being the party that doesn’t want a unity government. Former defense minister and current Blue and White Knesset member Moshe Ya’alon told JNS that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has become “a burden on the Likud and the state.”
Ya’alon said it is Netanyahu who is “preventing the establishment of a liberal national unity government because he wants a government that will give him immunity from prosecution.”
The sparring between the two parties has not been limited to pointing fingers about who’s to blame for the failing negotiations. Likud Justice Minister Amir Ohana held a press conference this week in which he strongly criticized the state prosecution for the manner in which it targets politicians. He also attacked the prosecutors, who are under the domain of his own ministry, for working hand in hand with the media, leaking information about investigations to the newspapers. Ohana said he called for a series of measures to try to catch who is illegally leaking this information.
This led to a wave of attacks from Blue and White, including from Gantz, who said “Netanyahu is sending his people to attack the police, the prosecution and the media. This is all part of his campaign for the next election.”
Gantz continued, saying, “It can’t be that while we are talking about the need to form a government that will strengthen the rule of law and protect freedom of the press, Netanyahu is attacking these institutions. Netanyahu must slam on the brakes—and quickly.”
‘Even the ultra-Orthodox will have to compromise’
All of this is taking place while there are new allegations of improper behavior by Netanyahu aides with them possibly harassing state witnesses against the prime minister. Likud is accusing the police and prosecution of another witch hunt, while Blue and White is harping on the breakdown in the rule of law in Netanyahu’s camp.
The increasing friction seems to leave Gantz with just one option: a minority government with the support of the Joint List. Gantz did, in fact, meet with its leaders and released a statement that the atmosphere was good, and that they discussed civil issues which must be addressed in the Arab population.
But for such a collaboration to work, Avigdor Lieberman, leader of the Yisrael Beiteinu Party, would have to be on board. And he made it clear to Israeli army radio that “the only option which we will support is a national unity government,” shutting down the possibility that he would allow Gantz to form a minority government with the support of the Joint Arab List.
The eight mandates of Yisrael Beiteinu could join together with Netanyahu’s 55-seat right-wing/religious bloc to vote against such a government.
All sides are clearly preparing for the possibility of a third election, with their messages beginning to sound more and more like electioneering and not regular politics.
Moshe Gafni of United Torah Judaism, who chairs the Knesset Finance Committee, told Ynet news the country simply cannot afford another election.
Gafni said if that remains the only option—and in order to prevent it from even happening to spare the Israeli public and salve the national angst—“even the ultra-Orthodox parties will have to compromise on issues they would not usually agree to.”