Netanyahu, rival Gantz agree deal for unity government
Jerusalem, March 27 (PTI): Ending a year-long political impasse, Israel inched towards forming a new unity government with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s main challenger, former army Chief Benny Gantz of the Blue and White party, reaching a deal with him.
The unsigned deal, as per local media reports, ensures Netanyahu’s continuity at the helm of the affairs for the first 18 months after which he will be replaced by Gantz.
Netanyahu last July became the longest serving Premier in the country’s history but has failed to win a clear mandate in the last three elections, all held in a span of less than a year.
The former Israel Defence Forces chief of Staff was elected the speaker of the Knesset (Israeli parliament) on Thursday, in a surprise move, with the support of Netanyahu led right-wing bloc, a development that left his own Blue and White party in tatters and an eventual split.
Former Finance Minister, Yair Lapid, whose Yesh Atid party was a major alliance partner in the Blue and White party led the charge against Gantz accusing him of “betrayal to voters and a theft of votes”.
We ran together because Benny Gantz looked me in the eye and said he would never sit in this bad government. I believed him”, Lapid said at a joint press conference with fellow Blue & White leader, Moshe Ya’alon, a former Defence Minister, on Thursday evening.
“Together with us, over a million Blue & White voters marched from street to street and from bridge to bridge They feel betrayed today, and justifiably so. Their votes were stolen and given as a gift to Netanyahu,” Lapid accused.
What’s being formed today isn’t a unity government or an emergency government. It’s another Netanyahu government. Benny Gantz surrendered without a fight and crawled into Netanyahu’s government, he charged.
Ya’alon said this was “a sad evening” and that Gantz’s decision to join a Netanyahu government “symbolizes everything we oppose”.
“Therefore, Yair and I have no choice but to declare our partnership as a faction that will fight against this negative phenomenon from the opposition”, he asserted.
Lawmakers of the center-left bloc took the Knesset podium earlier on Thursday to condemn Gantz and his clandestine partnership with Netanyahu.
You’ll end up a rug under the feet of an alleged crook, an inciter and racist, Zandberg said.
We’re standing here in shock trying to internalize the depth of your deception the disaster you’re inflicting on millions of voters [who backed] the left-democratic bloc who sought an alternative [to Netanyahu]”, she said.
Gantz, who won the mandate from President Reuven Rivlin to form a new government after being backed by 61 lawmakers following an unprecedented third round of polls on March 2, including those from the Arab dominated Joint List, has been left with only his faction of Israel Resilience party that has 15 members.
The factions led by Lapid and Ya’alon are likely to be recognised as the new Blue and White party following the split.
Parliamentarian Yousef Jabareen of the Joint List slammed Gantz’s Israel Resilience party and called it a “Likud B”, an offshoot of Netanyahu’s ruling party.
“Likud B, who spoke of a “Jewish majority” and backed a unilateral annexation [of the Jordan Valley in the West Bank] during the election campaign, has finally joined Likud A,” said Jabareen.
Gantz’s move however received the backing of his party’s co-leader, Gabi Ashkenazi, himself a former army Chief of Staff and being seen as the next Defence Minister in the deal, who published a tweet expressing his support for the move.
The country is in the midst of a national crisis, one of the worst we’ve known. A difficult crisis demands difficult decisions,” wrote Ashkenazi.
“We could not keep standing on the sidelines at a time like this. Israeli citizens now need a national emergency government”, he added.
Gantz is likely to serve as Netanyahu’s Number 2 for the first 18 months after which he will replace him as the next Prime Minister.
His loyalists will get senior cabinet posts, including the Justice Ministry from where they will be able to ensure that when the courts return to normal, Netanyahu will indeed go on trial for his graft indictment.