Gantz Seeking Arab MKs Support for PM Vote, But Roadblocks Abound

YERUSHALAYIM -
Head of Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Reports Sunday night said that Benny Gantz had instructed Blue and White’s negotiating team to discuss conditions under which the United Arab List would have its MKs vote for him as prime minister in his bid to unseat Binyamin Netanyahu – but despite Gantz’s desire to use the List to propel himself to the prime minister’s office, the plan may not work. In order for that to happen, Gantz needs the votes of Yisrael Beytenu and all of Blue and White’s MKs – and both of those seemed to remain unsettled Monday morning.

On Sunday, Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman laid out his conditions for supporting Gantz’s bid. Those conditions included a long list of anti-religious laws, including fostering conditions that will allow for public transportation on Shabbos, criminal penalties for yeshivah students who do not serve in the IDF, civil marriage, and others. Gantz immediately accepted the conditions. But on Monday, Blue and White officials were quoted on Reshet Bet as saying that despite Gantz’s acquiescence, it wasn’t clear what Liberman’s intentions were. “We have been in contact and they know Gantz accepts his conditions, but he has not officially agreed to the idea yet,” the officials said. “It’s not clear what is going to happen.”

Similarly, Gantz faces trouble “at home.” Reports last week said that Moshe Yaalon, head of the rightwing Telem party, had agreed to relying on the List votes to install Gantz as prime minister – but his two MKs, Yoaz Hendel and Zvi Hauser, are refusing to go along. The three met Sunday night, in a meeting that Channel 12 portrayed as “spirited, some would say even angry, with shouting heard from inside the room.”

As of Monday, analysts said that the two MKs remained steadfast and are continuing to refuse to support the move. In a social media post, rightwing journalist Chanoch Daum said that Hendel in particular was doing his best “to keep Gantz honest. He is keeping the promise the heads of Blue and White made in every interview before the election,” that Blue and White would not join with the List in forming a government, or rely on its support to do so in any way. “He is physically blocking the shame in which three former IDF Chiefs of Staff are willing to form a questionable minority government” relying on the votes of MKs among whom are supporters of terror, Daum said.

It also appeared that Gantz could not necessarily count on the third leg of the plan, the United Arab List itself. List MKs said Sunday that they were “considering” the idea, but that no formal request had been made, “and we have not even been in touch with Blue and White representatives at all,” said List MK Ahmed Tibi. Channel 12 quoted List MKs as saying Monday that they would not accept a “back-room deal. Either we hold direct negotiations through the front door, or we don’t get involved. We want to be related and spoken to like any other party, with everything on the table.” Meanwhile, Ofer Kassif, the only Jewish MK on the List, said that if Liberman was in, UAL was out. “This is a man who is full of hatred for our voters. We will in no way support a government that this racist is a part of,” he told Reshet Bet.

Finally, there was the Balad issue. Balad is one of the four factions that make up the List, and includes its most radical members – including Hiba Yazbak, who has repeatedly expressed her support for terrorism; for example, in a Channel 13 interview, she said that “international law allows nations under occupation to act to free themselves.” When asked if that included terror attacks against soldiers, she refused to answer, instead saying that “what is illegitimate is the continuation of the occupation.”

According to media reports, Gantz is hoping to garner 12 of the List’s 15 votes – not including the votes of Balad. But commentators on Channel 20 said this was unlikely to work. “They have already said it’s the whole party or nothing, and even Gantz is going to have to step back when he is presented with the List’s demands that will include support for Balad’s projects. And in the end they won’t join anyway, after they drag Gantz through the mud and make him look like a fool. Gantz will be like the servant who bought the rotten fish, tried to eat it, and had to pay for it anyway,” the commentators said.