Political battle heats up: Gantz denies reports of unity deal, Edelstein fires back

Knesset Speaker Edelstein, opposition leader Gantz exchange insults as ruling Likud and opposition Blue and White parties jockey for power.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

In the shadow of the coronavirus pandemic, the speaker of Israel’s parliament lashed out at the opposition Thursday, saying the current lockout at the Knesset was caused by a ploy from Blue and White leader Benny Gantz’s party to prevent a national unity government.

“It’s time to blow the bluff, democracy is not in danger,” Knesset speaker and Likud Party member Yuli Edelstein tweeted. “The whole thing was a splinter group in Blue and White who gave themselves the goal of preventing a unity government.”

Minutes earlier, Gantz had tweeted that the coalition talks, barely a few days old, had been halted and accused the Likud of misleading the Israels under the guise of the coronavirus pandemic.

“What we see throughout the day is cynical spin at the time of a major and difficult crisis for Israeli citizens,” Gantz said on Twitter, denying earlier reports that Blue and White had agreed to a unity government.

The two sides are at tense loggerheads after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called earlier in the week for a government of national unity to fight the coronavirus, with the incumbent prime minister at the helm. That came only two days after Gantz was given the go-ahead to try to form a new government following the inconclusive March 2 elections in Israel.

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Netanyahu had managed to find only 58 votes, three short of the 61 needed for a slim majority in Israel’s 120-seat parliament. After getting the support of 15 members from the Joint List of predominantly Arab parties Gantz will try to form a minority government, but faces an uphill battle to do so before the deadline for presenting his government expires next month.

The current politic crisis was touched off the day after members were sworn in for the new parliamentary session under the growing medical and economic crisis from the worldwide pandemic.

With the new session only a few minutes old, Edelstein used his powers to suspend the legislature as the two sides jockeyed for members of important parliamentary committees. Blue and White accused Edelstein and the Likud of damaging democracy, while the Likud fired back that Gantz’s party was trying to load parliamentary committees in their favor instead of having equal representation during the corona crisis.