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March 19, 2020 3:16 pm

Netanyahu Rival Gantz Denies Agreeing to Unity Government, Says No Talks Planned

avatar by Benjamin Kerstein

Israel’s Blue and White leader Benny Gantz. Photo: Reuters / Joshua Lott.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s chief political rival Benny Gantz denied rumors that he had agreed to a unity government with Netanyahu on Thursday, calling the reports “cynical spin.”

The statement came at a moment of serious political controversy, exacerbated by the coronavirus crisis.

On Thursday, Gantz’s centrist Blue and White party petitioned the Supreme Court to overturn Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein’s decision to close down the legislature, a decision Edelstein said was motivated by the danger connected to the coronavirus. Blue and White had planned to replace Edelstein — a member of Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party — as Knesset speaker.

Blue and White and other critics called Edelstein’s move a self-serving political maneuver that endangered Israeli democracy.

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In a Facebook video issued on Thursday, Blue and White number two Yair Lapid said, “We haven’t been a democracy for three days already.  There is no legislature, there is no judiciary, the speaker of the Knesset has not been elected to his office, the prime minister has not been elected to his office.”

“Throughout all of human history, when is a democracy destroyed?” he asked. “When there were emergency situations. In an emergency situation as well, Israel must continue to be what it is. We will not allow Netanyahu to destroy Israeli democracy.”

The Israeli news site N12 reported on Thursday that rumors were swirling that Gantz had nonetheless decided to agree to a unity government with Netanyahu, even though this could result in a breakup of the various factions composing Blue and White.

On Thursday evening, Gantz issued a statement on Twitter saying that the rumors were untrue, contacts between Likud and Blue and White had ended, no agreement had been reached and there were no plans for further meetings.

He also implied Netanyahu was behind the rumors, calling them “cynical spin at a time of a great and difficult crisis for Israeli citizens.”

Gantz pledged that the Knesset would resume its work this week and he would “never compromise on Israel’s security and the protection of democracy in Israel.”

“In everything connected to the struggle against the coronavirus,” he added, “we will support every correct step taken by the caretaker government.”

Earlier this week, Gantz received the mandate from President Reuven Rivlin to try to form the next government, after receiving recommendations from 61 of the Knesset’s 120 members.

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