Balad announces it won’t back Gantz, leaving Kahol Lavan with 54 recommendations, while 55 lawmakers said they would recommend Netanyahu
After two days of consultations with party leaders which included a rare endorsement of a prime ministerial candidate by an Arab party alliance, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin on Monday summoned a joint meeting of the two contenders after both failed to secure a 61-majority of backers to form a governing coalition. (Who is Benny Gantz? Meet the man who might be Israel’s next prime minister)
Balad, one of the four parties that make up the Joint List, an alliance of four Israeli Arab parties, has decided not to recommend Kahol Lavan chairman Benny Gantz for prime minister, Joint List co-chairman Ahmad Tibi told Rivlin on Sunday.
With the backing of only three out of four parties comprising the Joint List, together with Kahol Lavan’s 33 lawmakers, Labor-Gesher’s six elected representatives and the Democratic Union’s five, Gantz has only 54 recommendations, while Netanyahu has secured 55 recommendations from his own Likud party, ultra-Orthodox parties Shas and United Torah Judaism and right-wing alliance Yamina.
Following the consultations, Rivlin summoned both Gantz and Netanyahu for a meeting at his office on Monday evening.
In an official letter, Tibi stressed that the Joint List’s recommendation applies to only 10 of its 13 elected lawmakers, not including Balad.
“Balad has worked as part of the Joint List to take down Benjamin Netanyahu, and will clearly keep on doing so, but at the same time does not see Gantz as an alternative, when he and his party support the annexation of Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, threaten with a war in Gaza and unwilling to annul the racist Nation-State Law.”
UTJ chairman Yaakov Litzman said that “We’ve agreed to unequivocally back Netanyahu and the right-wing bloc.”
Before meeting Rivlin on Sunday, Joint List Chairman Ayman Odeh said they decided to back Gantz because “we want to put an end to the Netanyahu era.”
Odeh also wrote in a New York Times opinion piece explaining the decision: “I have argued earlier that if the center-left parties of Israel believe that Arab Palestinian citizens have a place in this country, they must accept that we have a place in its politics [. . .] We have decided to demonstrate that Arab Palestinian citizens can no longer be rejected or ignored. Our decision to recommend Mr. Gantz as the next prime minister without joining his expected national unity coalition government is a clear message that the only future for this country is a shared future, and there is no shared future without the full and equal participation of Arab Palestinian citizens.”
Netanyahu said that “exactly what we’ve been warning of” has happened. “Now, there are two options: Either a minority government backed by those who reject Israel as a Jewish and democratic state and praise terrorists … would be formed, or a broad national unity government,” he said, vowing to “work as much as I can to form a broad national unity government. There’s no other solution.”
As meetings began, Yisrael Beiteinu’s Avigdor Lieberman announced he wouldn’t endorse either Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz.
“The commitments we’ve made to our voters are rock solid, and we won’t budge at all,” he said. “As soon as Benjamin Netanyahu and Likud decided to form a bloc with ultra-Orthodox parties and religious fanatics, we can’t be part of that bloc.”
On Gantz, Lieberman argued, “He’s keeping the option of forming a government with the ultra-Orthodox and the Joint List. The ultra-Orthodox parties are not enemies, but political rivals. Joint List members are certainly enemies, wherever they may be.”
On Sunday, the leaders of Labor-Gesher said they would recommend Gantz, while the two ultra-Orthodox parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism, said they would endorse Netanyahu.
Each outfit represented in the Knesset recommended its pick at a potential prime minister in meetings that were broadcast live, according to new regulations that came into force during Israel’s previous election in April. Rivlin will announce his choice on Wednesday, after the Central Elections Committee confirms the final results.
Because both Gantz and Netanyahu’s parties fall short of the 61 seats needed for a majority, the man who could have tipped the scales was Lieberman, with his crucial eight seats.
The presidential nod should be given to “the candidate with the highest chances” of forming a “stable government as quickly as possible,” top aide Harel Tobi said on Friday.
Kahol Lavan sources: Party prefers not to get first chance at forming coalition
Sources in Kahol Lavan said that the party had decided it would prefer for Netanyahu to get the first chance at forming a coalition, under the assumption that he will fail to do so. “We came to the conclusion that whoever gets the chance to form a government first will fail, which is why we’d prefer to get the assignment after the various parties will be prepared to be flexible, not at the stage when they are entrenched in their positions,” a source said.
Kahol Lavan has no control over the order in which the president will assign the task of forming a government. But preferring not to go first means that the party would be prepared to give up the post of chairman of the arranging committee, which controls the Knesset mechanisms until the coalition is formed and the regular Knesset committees are filled. By law, this job goes to the party of the first lawmaker tasked with forming a government.
The arranging committee appoints interim members to the Knesset Finance Committee and the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, advances legislation during the transition period until the new government is formed, and can decide on questions of granting parliamentary immunity to MKs that request it.
Sources in the President’s Residence told Haaretz that Rivlin will not decide who goes first on the basis of requests by the various candidates.
Netanyahu’s legal woes could inform president’s decision
Sources involved in the discussions at the President’s Residence told Haaretz that so far, no legal opinion has been presented to prevent Rivlin from giving the task to Netanyahu, even in case the attorney general files an indictment against the premier in the coming weeks.
Rivlin will be meeting Kahol Lavan, Likud, the Joint List, Shas and Yisrael Beiteinu on Sunday, so his decision on whom to task with forming a government will likely become clear even before he finishes consulting with the other parties on Monday.
Rivlin may well convene a three-way meeting with Gantz and Netanyahu to promote the formation of a unity government if negotiations on building a governing coalition seem to be stuck. So far he hasn’t called for such a meeting.
In recent weeks, several people who met with Rivlin have raised the possibility of a deal in which charges against Netanyahu would be dropped in exchange for his departure from political life. But Rivlin has declined to discuss the matter.
These interlocutors, who included lawyers and journalists, raised the question on their own initiative. None of them appear to have been acting openly on Netanyahu’s behalf, though some of them are acquainted with him.
Nevertheless, journalist and political commentator Raviv Drucker reported on Channel 13 television over the weekend that a Netanyahu envoy did come to Rivlin to ask the same question. Drucker reported that this envoy isn’t someone directly affiliated with the prime minister, but rather someone “who could deny any connection with him.”