Unity back in play: Netanyahu, Gantz may be closer to agreement than thought

Though hopes for a unity government appeared to dim, such a government may be in the cards after all.

By World Israel News Staff

Israel may be closer to a unity government than previously assumed.

Columnist Mati Tuchfeld of Israel Hayom reports that Netanyahu’s move to bring in New Right leader Naftali Bennett as defense minister has scuttled the opposition party’s plan to establish a “minority government.”

A minority government is one comprised of fewer than the 61 Knesset seats that are normally the minimum needed to make up a majority. However, parties outside the government – that is, not part of the ruling coalition – tacitly support it from without, giving it the necessary 61 or more.

In this instance, the Arab Joint List, with its 13 Knesset seats, would be the supporting party, although relying on anti-Zionist, Arab MKs is politically risky as its viewed negatively by Israel’s Jewish majority.

According to Tuchfeld, Blue and White leader Benny Gantz hoped he had found a way to mollify public opinion by bringing in two right-wing parties – the New Right and Israel Beiteinu, led by Avigdor Liberman.

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“Gantz believed it would be possible to cause Bennett to switch sides, and such a government, even if it rested on the votes of the Arab Joint List, wouldn’t suffer a lack of public legitimacy, because it would be made up of two left-wing parties and two right-wing parties,” Tuchfeld writes in Thursday’s edition.

This would explain why Netanyahu moved swiftly to give Bennett the defense ministry despite refusing to do so when Bennett had demanded the top defense post back in November, 2018.

A minority government might not have been in the cards anyway as Liberman reiterated on Wednesday evening that he wouldn’t support such a government, referring to the Arab parties again as a “5th column.”

Having been outflanked regarding a minority government, Gantz will be more inclined to establish a rotational government with Netanyahu. Tuchfeld says that Gantz preferred this option anyway but was resisted by other leading members of Blue and White – former IDF chiefs-of-staff Gabi Ashkenazi and Moshe Ya’alon and Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid.

Lapid, who is most opposed to joining with Netanyahu, has softened his position, according to reports.

The agreement between Blue and White and Likud includes several key elements, Tuchfeld says:

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1) Netanyahu would serve as prime minister first (likely a two-year term). Gantz would serve second.

2) The Likud would bring with it into the coalition the 55-seat right-wing bloc it formed immediately after the September elections.

3) Blue and White wouldn’t veto a vote to grant the prime minister immunity in his corruption cases.

4) If Yair Lapid decides to break with Blue and White and not bring his party into the coalition, the ministries given to Gantz won’t be affected.

5) If Liberman decides to enter the government, Blue and White will have to concede certain positions to make room for his demands.

6) The start of Netanyahu’s “incapacity” in the event the corruption cases go forward will be at the time the court cases begins and not sooner.