Amid Political Deadlock, Will Gantz and Lieberman Form Minority Government With Israeli-Arab Support?
JNS.org – With no clear path towards a government coalition for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu following the third round of elections on March 2, Israel’s political scene has entered a state of chaos that could produce an unlikely alliance of parties seeking to oust the longtime leader.
On Monday, Blue and White Party leader Benny Gantz spoke with three out of the four heads of the Joint Arab List (minus Balad) as part of his bid to form a government. At the meeting with the Arab leaders, whose party is the third-largest in the new Knesset at 15, Gantz said he intends to form a government that will serve all of Israel’s citizens, both Arab and Jew.
The meeting with the Israeli Arab party leaders comes as Gantz now has 47 Knesset members supporting him for prime minister—33 from Blue and White, seven from Labor/Meretz and seven from Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu Party. Over the weekend, Gantz agreed to Lieberman’s demands for changes to religion and state legislation, such as allowing civil marriage and public transportation on the Sabbath, in order to earn Lieberman’s endorsement.
That leaves Gantz with only one path towards a government: the support of the Joint List. While the Arab parties don’t have to actually join the Gantz-led government, they would have to vote in favor of a minority government of 47 seats, with 62, including the Arab parties, voting to support it.
Still, there are a number of obstacles in the way before Blue and White can work together with the Arab parties.
Likud Party minister Ze’ev Elkin told JNS that the first hurdle is that by working in partnership with the Arab parties, “Blue and White, and Lieberman are lying to their voters.”
Both made it clear during their campaigns that they would not work together with these parties because while they have nothing against Arabs who live in Israel, the parties are against Israel as a Jewish state. During the campaign, Blue and White Knesset member Moshe Ya’alon, a former Likud Defense Minister, exclaimed “Enough with the lies!” when he was asked about the party having to partner with the Arab parties to form a government.
“We didn’t do so with them last round, and we won’t do it in this round,” he insisted.
To make things even more difficult for Blue and White, Knesset member Aida Touma-Sliman from the Joint List told IDF Radio this week that in her opinion, the Law of Return that provides automatic Israeli citizenship for Jews should be cancelled, explaining that “there is no reason for the law anymore. Anyone who wanted to come has come and those Jews who have chosen to stay in New York and France are not coming.”
Arab parties: ‘Gantz has not asked for their support’
Two Blue and White Knesset members—Tzvi Hauser and Yoaz Hendel, both right-wing—are trying to stop Blue and White from working together with the Joint List. If the two of them vote against a Blue and White government that includes the Joint List or relies on Joint Arab List support, then Gantz won’t have a majority to form a government. Ya’alon met with Hauser and Hendel, and in a tense-filled meeting told them that if they plan to vote against a minority government with Joint List support, then they must resign their Knesset seats. When JNS asked Blue and White members for comment about the issue, they replied that they are not giving interviews on the topic.
Likud minister Tzachi Hanegbi told JNS there is no reason for a government with Joint List support, and there is no reason to go to a fourth election.
“If we don’t want a minority government that would be established with the kindness of Joint List MKs Ahmed Tibi and Ayman Odeh, then we must establish a unity government,” he told JNS.
Hanegbi said for that to happen, Blue and White must stop with their veto of Netanyahu as prime minister since he “led Likud to be the largest party in Israel.” In addition, they “must come to terms with the law that allows a prime minister to go to trial while serving as prime minister.”
The parties affiliated with the Joint List have not indicated whether they will support Gantz for prime minister and vote for a government led by him. For now, they simply said that “Gantz has not asked us for his support,” so there is nothing to discuss at the moment.