With Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu informing President Reuven Rivlin Monday night that he was unable to form a coalition, the ball is now set to be in the court of Blue and White head Benny Gantz, who will get 28 days to form a government. Optimistic sources in Blue and White told Israeli media Tuesday morning that they expected Gantz to succeed – with a source telling Yisrael Hayom that the only question was “how much it will cost us to convince parties to join with Gantz.”
So far, that price is zero – because as of Tuesday, all members of the rightwing bloc organized by Netanyahu have said that they will not join a Gantz-led government. Ayelet Shaked of the New Right said that her party, along with Jewish Home (both of the former United Right List) will be “happy to discuss matters with Gantz, but we will not join a government led by him,” she said in a social media post. United Torah Judaism informed Gantz that party MKs are unlikely to even meet with him, while in Shas it has not been decided whether or not to meet – but even if a meeting does take place, “the situation will not change,” sources in the party said. “The likelihood that Gantz will be able to form a government is very small, and chances are that in 28 days the President will come back to Netanyahu to offer him another opportunity.” On Tuesday afternoon, all three parties officially informed Rivlin that their position had not changed – that the only government they were committed to joining was one that would be led by Netanyahu.
The likelihood that Gantz would be able to form a government was reduced even more Tuesday when United Arab List MK Matanas Shahade told Radio 103 that his Balad faction – consisting of 3 MKs – “will not support a government led by Gantz. That is our stance, not that of the rest of the List. But we will try to convince MKs of the other factions to follow our lead.” Without those 3 MKs and assuming the rest of the List supports his efforts, Gantz has 54 MKs – fewer than Netanyahu’s 55, including the Likud and the rightwing and religious parties.
If Gantz does close a deal with the remaining 9 MKs of the List, he may actually find himself with significantly fewer than 54 MKs on his side – because several Blue and White MKs have reportedly balked at the idea of including List MKs in the government. Media sources over the weekend quoted several, including Yoaz Hendel and Zvi Hauser, as saying that they would have “a very hard time sitting in a government with the likes of Ahmed Tibi and others on the List, who have justified terror attacks on Israelis. And we are not the only ones who feel this way.”
A report on Channel One said that Gantz’s most likely first call will not be to his “natural partners” in Labor or the Democratic Camp – but to Netanyahu, inviting him to discuss a unity government. Netanyahu is likely to attend such a meeting, even though Gantz rejected the idea when Netanyahu invited him to discuss the same matter. “Now the Likud has to come to us, meaning that we are in the position of power,” party sources told Yisrael Hayom. “There is an advantage in being second in a situation like this. Netanyahu failed to form a government, and now parties will have to join us if they want to prevent third elections.”
With 54 MKs on his side and assuming the Likud-righwing-religious bloc remains solid, Gantz has one chance to form a government – with Yisrael Beytenu. But after seeing the treatment Netanyahu got from Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman, Blue and White officials are downright afraid of making a deal with him. “Liberman is not a stable person and you can never tell what he is going to do,” the Blue and White sources told Yisrael Hayom. “He is capable of changing his mind from minute to minute. We are doing our best not to be in a position where we have to rely on him to form a government.”
On Monday night, at the close of Simchas Torah, Netanyahu informed President Reuven Rivlin that he was unable to form a government, and that the President should choose someone else to give it a try. In a social media post, Netanyahu said that he had “worked tirelessly, both openly and secretly, to form a unity government, which is what the people want. This is what is needed to deal with the great security challenges we face. In recent weeks, I have taken great efforts to bring Benny Gantz to the negotiating table and prevent new elections. Unfortunately he has refused, time and time again. He has not given the idea of a unity government even five minutes of serious thought. His automatic answer has been a consistent ‘no.’
“This indicates one thing – that he is being controlled by Liberman and Yair Lapid. They speak about unity but work to achieve the opposite. They reject talking with religious parties, but not with Arab MKs. They have been working all along to establish a minority government relying on the Arab MKs. It is not too late – if Gantz will come to his senses and reject the idea of a minority government, we can establish the unity government that Israel needs,” Netanyahu added.