Gantz backs down, may join Netanyahu-led unity government

Opposition leader Benny Gantz acknowledges that despite being tasked to form a new government, the pandemic crisis may require him to sit in Netanyahu-led coalition.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

Opposition Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz admitted Thursday that despite his previous declarations, there may be no choice but to sit in a national unity government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The former IDF chief-of-staff was tasked earlier this week to form a new government following Israel’s inconclusive March 2 elections and has until the end of next month to complete the task; otherwise, Israel might face an unprecedented fourth election. Having said on several occasions that he would never sit in a government led by Netanyahu, Gantz admitted in a Channel 12 interview that the coronavirus pandemic has changed things.

“We in Blue and White received the mandate [to form the government], but we cannot ignore the conditions that have developed,” Gantz said. “I am not talking now about the (coalition) negotiations we are involved in. All options are still on the table, but we cannot go to a fourth election. Today’s challenges are to deal with the economic crisis and the health crisis.”

“At the moment all the options need to be on the table. It would not be responsible on my part not to consider any alternative,” he told Channel 12 news.

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Gantz said the country needs a unity government to deal with the massive health and economic crisis, but also “to preserve Israeli democracy” in reference to the political feud that saw the speaker of the Knesset adjourn the legislature earlier this week.

The new Knesset had only been sworn in on Monday, but MKs of both Netanyahu’s Likud Party and Blue and White were immediately at loggerheads over important parliamentary committees, with both sides jockeying for power when the plug was pulled.

Blue and White members accused the Likud of undermining the country’s democratic processes, especially by ordering the use of anti-terror surveillance methods without judicial or parliamentary oversight in order to track people infected with the coronavirus.  Gantz said Netanyahu’s moves were approaching “the margins of dictatorship.”

Despite the mutual acrimony that developed once Gantz left the military and entered politics, both he and Netanyahu have met several times in the past year to negotiate forming a unity government, but failed when neither would agree to let the other take first shot at a proposed rotating premiership in which each would be prime minister for two years.

Israelis failed to give either side enough support to form a government in elections held three times in the past year.