Rivlin Tasks Gantz to Form Government After Liberman, Arabs Recommend

President of Israel Reuven Rivlin meeting with Binyamin Netanyahu of Likud and Benny Gantz of Blue and White. (Kobi Gideon)

Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin said on Sunday that he will task Blue and White leader Benny Gantz with forming a government after he received endorsements from a majority of Knesset members.

President of Israel Reuven Rivlin greeting Benny Gantz of Blue and White. (Kobi Gideon)

Earlier, Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman recommended Blue and White head Benny Gantz for prime minister in a meeting with Rivlin, which could give Gantz enough votes to form a government, according to media reports.

Liberman’s recommendation, combined with an earlier endorsement from the Joint Arab List, would seem to provide Gantz with a 61-MK bloc: Blue and White has 33, JAL 15, Labor-Gesher-Meretz 7, and Liberman’s 7. Minus Orly Levy-Abacsis, who said she won’t recommend either Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu‏‏ or Gantz, leaves 61.

However, at least 2 members of Gantz’s party—Tzvi Hauser and Yoaz Hendel—have balked at allying with the Arab MKs even if they support the coalition from outside.

Liberman reportedly explained his decision—which amounts to a total reversal of decades of invective against the very same Joint List, repeatedly accusing them treason and backing terrorism—saying that he did it “because we are in an emergency.”

President of Israel Reuven Rivlin greeting Binyamin Netanyahu of Likud. (Kobi Gideon)

While Rivlin and Netanyahu have been urging a unity government to manage the emergency, and until now Gantz said he would at least consider it, his alliance with Joint List would create a new impediment as JAL chairman Ayman Odeh all but ruled out such a scenario on Sunday.

Odeh warned that if Gantz and Netanyahu would actually try to form a unity government, “we will be its biggest opponents.”

The president said after his consultation with Liberman that “the math is clear,” although he noted that he himself has spoken of the importance of a unity government.

But Gantz didn’t seem to be talking unity. Referring to Netanyahu’s invitation to join forces, he said: “Someone who wants unity doesn’t postpone their criminal trial at 1 a.m., and doesn’t send the media a ‘plan for emergency unity’ — but sends a negotiation team to meet. Unlike you, I will continue to back every correct action of the government without any political consideration. When you’re serious, we’ll talk.”

Gantz comment referred to Justice Minister Amir Ohana’s declaration, in the middle of the night, a “state of emergency” in Israel’s court system “as part of the national effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.”

Subsequently, a Yerusahalayim District Court announced that Netanyahu’s trial would be delayed by two months, until May 24.

On the other side of the political divide, MK Yariv Levin, negotiating for Likud, ruled out a government with the Joint List:

“Neither in routine times nor in emergencies is there room for a government that relies on people who do not accept Israel as a Jewish state and support terrorism.”

“This is not the time for minority governments; this is not the time to make changes. It’s time for stability. It is a time for a government led by people with experience. The parties that supported Prime Minister Netanyahu won 58 seats, much more than Gantz supporters,” Levin said.

But the consultation process is not over. Rivlin is still scheduled to meet with Netanyahu and Gantz before making his decision, by Tuesday.