Arab bloc endorses Gantz for prime minister

The Arab bloc in Israel’s parliament endorsed Blue and White party chairman Benny Gantz for prime minister on Sunday evening.

By World Israel Staff and Associated Press

With the nod of the Israeli parliament’s Arab parties, Blue and White’s Benny Gantz has garnered more endorsements for prime minister than incumbent Benjamin Netanyahu.

Representatives of the Joint List of Arab parties told President Reuven Rivlin on Sunday that they recommend the former military chief. This is the first time that Arab parties have endorsed a candidate for prime minister since endorsing Yitzchak Rabin in 1992.

Israel’s largely ceremonial president is tasked with picking the politician with the best chance of forming a stable coalition government.

While usually a formality, this time Rivlin plays a key role after an election earlier this month in which neither of the top candidates appeared able to from a coalition with an outright majority of 61 members of the 120-seat parliament.

Kingmaker Avigdor Liberman has endorsed neither of the candidates. He urged Gantz not to enter a coalition with the Arab parties.

Liberman says he won’t sit in a government that includes the Joint List, an alliance of communist, Islamist and Arab nationalist parties. It received 13 seats in elections held five days ago, making it the third largest faction in the Knesset.

Historically, Israeli governments have shunned Arab parties and followed an unwritten rule never to rely on Arab Knesset members to build their coalitions.

Only once has an Israeli government been made up of a Jewish minority – in 1993 when the Shas party left the Yitzhak Rabin-led government over the Oslo Accords, leaving it with 56 MKs, instead of the minimum necessary (61). Hadash and Mada stepped in to save the government, not joining it officially, but supporting it from outside.

Earlier Sunday, Rivlin began his two-day consultations with all elected parties before deciding upon the prime minister-designate amid post-election deadlock.

In last week’s vote, Gantz’s Blue and White party won 33 seats, while incumbent Netanyahu’s Likud took 31 seats.

Neither has yet to muster a majority coalition with their traditional smaller allies. The emerging compromise appears to be some form of unity government between the two, though both insist upon leading it.