In what is likely to be an absolutely last-ditch effort to overcome the differences between them, Binyamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz will meet later Tuesday. The meeting comes on the background of continuing accusations by MKs in either party that their counterparts are the ones preventing establishment of a unity government, and are forcing the country into new elections.
In what sounded like a prelude to a declaration that new elections were inevitable, Blue and White announced Tuesday morning that its negotiating team would not discuss anything with the Likud, unless a precondition were met – that Benny Gantz be the first to take the Prime Minister’s seat in any rotation agreement.
The Blue and White declaration came after Netanyahu supporters said that the Prime Minister had made “deep concessions” in order to bring about a unity government, and that he was interested in being Prime Minister first for one purpose – in order to annex the Jordan Valley. Likud MK Ze’ev Elkin told Reshet Bet that “this is one of the main things the Prime Minister is planning. Everyone knows that such a move would require quiet assent from the Americans,” something that was not possible in the past, but given the change in U.S. policy on the legality of Israeli settlements in Yehuda and Shomron, is possible now. “We have a rare opportunity that we dare not miss,” Elkin said.
In response, Blue and White number two Yair Lapid wrote in a social media message that “Netanyahu was Prime Minister for 14 years, and now all of the sudden he decided it’s important to annex the Jordan Valley. This is a new ‘spin’ by Netanyahu – now he needs five months to accomplish this. What was holding him back for the more than a decade he was in power?”
Meanwhile, reports Tuesday said that Yisrael Beytenu MKs Oded Forer and Hamad Amar were pressing party chairman Avigdor Liberman to join a right-wing government led by Netanyahu if the alternative is elections. Yediot Acharonot quoted sources in the party as saying that “the option of a unity government is still the best one, but we cannot give up on the idea of a right-wing government, because the alternative of elections will be worse.” In an interview with the Knesset Channel, Liberman said that he “didn’t know which one is worse – new elections or a narrow right-wing government. But I understand the dissatisfaction of MKs, and their anger at Blue and White.”
That anger, media analysts speculated, was over what Yisrael Beytenu MKs said was the “treachery” of Blue and White, whose votes passed a measure in the Knesset Finance Committee Monday to transfer money to pay salaries for teachers in chareidi institutions, based on coalition agreements between the Likud and chareidi parties from the 20th Knesset. The measure was proposed by Shas MKs, and a vote deadlock was broken by votes of Blue and White MKs to pass the measure.
Also voting in favor were United Arab List MKs, which also raised the ire of Liberman. “There is an unholy alliance between the anti-Zionist Arab MKs and the anti-Zionist chareidi MKs, and this was evident to anyone who was at the Finance Committee meeting” which passed the funding bill. “We are used to the idea of Shas and the United Arab List moving money around, but without Blue and White this would not have happened. They are apparently trying to make a deal under the table, and far more extensively than we expected.”
In an interview with the Knesset Channel, Likud faction chairman MK Miki Zohar said that “unfortunately I don’t see a unity government being formed, nor do I see a narrow government on either side being formed. I am much more pessimistic now than I have been, and I believe that we are going to elections. I don’t know all of Liberman’s thoughts, but I don’t see him entering a narrow right-wing coalition, because he does not get along with chareidim. Maybe these rumors that he will join a Netanyahu-led government is a tactic to push Blue and White. In the end I don’t think there will be a unity government, and the chances of a right-wing or left-wing government are low to nil,” he said.