Religious parties reportedly weigh Blue and White alliance

In a major about-face, Israel’s haredi factions said they were weighing a coalition with Benny Gantz’s centrist secular party.

By World Israel News and AP

According to a report by Channel 12, the United Torah Judaism (UTJ) party is reconsidering its decision not to sit in a coalition with the the party of Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz, Blue and White.

The report on Israeli television said that UTJ’s Degel HaTorah faction was consulting with their spiritual leader, Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, on Thursday evening. Lapid remains the primary sticking point for UTJ based on contentious relations between the former newscaster and haredi leaders.

UTJ’s Agudat Yisrael faction would also need the blessing of their rabbis before the umbrella party could proceed with the Blue and White alliance.

According to Channel 12, the rabbis are likely to approve the request, notwithstanding Lapid’s perceived hostility toward haredi society based on his previous record in the Knesset.

Earlier on Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his chief rival, Gantz, separately called for the formation of a unity government following the inconclusive national election. Both men, however, demand to be prime minister, with no signs of a break in the deadlock between their parties.

The rival proposals, marked by deep differences, indicated the country could be headed for a long and contentious period of uncertainty, and politicians on both sides of the aisle warned of being forced into an unprecedented third election in less than a year.

“There is no choice but to form a broad unity government,” Netanyahu said in a video statement. “We cannot and there is no reason to go to third elections.”

After failing to form a coalition following April’s election, Netanyahu called Tuesday’s vote, only to see the country emerge with another political stalemate.

With nearly all votes counted Thursday, Gantz’s Blue and White party stood at 33 seats in the 120-seat parliament. Netanyahu’s Likud stood at 31 seats.

Speaking to reporters, Gantz said that as the largest party, he should lead the next government.

“The people chose unity, the people want Israel to come before everything, and therefore, Blue and White under my leadership won the elections,” said Gantz, a former military chief of staff.

Lapid, Blue and White’s number two, accused Netanyahu of dragging the country to a third election and called for him to step down.

“One person is preventing right now the establishment of a liberal unity government. One person stands between what is good for the country and what’s good for that person. And country always comes first,” he said.

Netanyahu repeated his offer at a memorial for the late Israeli leader Shimon Peres, where he and Gantz shook hands in their first public encounter since Tuesday’s vote. He also offered to meet with Gantz.

After such a caustic race, there is little public appetite for another bruising campaign.

“I will do everything I can to prevent another general election,” President Reuven Rivlin said at the memorial service for Peres. “I hear, loud and clear, the voices calling for a broad and stable national unity government.”