The political crisis in Israel took another dramatic turn on Thursday as Blue and White leader Benny Gantz agreed to join a unity government led by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
Gantz’s party, formed chiefly to drive Netanyahu from power, was itself overthrown as the news broke that Gantz would serve as foreign minister under Netanyahu until September 2021, at which time he would assume the premiership.
In the meantime, Gantz was elected as interim speaker of the Knesset, replacing the outgoing Yuli Edelstein, until a new government can be fully formed. His appointment carried with the support of the right-wing bloc.
At the Knesset speaker’s podium, he said that he made the deal for the sake of the nation. Quoting from his 2019 election slogan, Gantz declared that he is putting Israel “before everything else.”
He noted that Israel has for over a year been led by an interim government “without a public mandate. We’ve gone through repeated elections that have taken billions of shekels from the health, education and defense systems.
“Alongside this, deep hatred has blossomed, with division the greatest existential threat to Israel.”
Haaretz said that despite being outnumbered in the emerging new coalition, Gantz’s Israel Resilience faction will receive a number of ministerial portfolios equal to that of the entire right-wing bloc.
However, the Likud issued a statement cautioning against rumors about the makeup of the next government, but did not deny a deal had been made.
Gantz’s former partners—Yair Lapid and Moshe Yaalon—angrily rejected the deal and were reportedly filing a request to continue as a separate party retaining the name Blue and White. They argue that they are entitled to it, as together they have more MKs than Gantz’s Israel Resilience faction.
Although the situation remains fluid, the early estimates are that the emerging coalition will be made up of 78-79 MKs — Likud, Gantz’s Israel Resilience, Labor, Yamina, Shas and United Torah Judaism — according to Channel 12.
That would leave an opposition bloc composed of Lapid-Yaalon, Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu, Meretz and the Arab Joint List.
While Gantz promised he will “not compromise on principles for which over a million citizens voted,” his erstwhile colleagues were beside themselves with fury.
Meretz party head Nitzan Horowitz denounced Gantz as “a collaborator with the accused [prime minister].”
He said Gantz “built himself on one promise only: an alternative leadership. Entering Netanyahu’s government is to spit in the face and betray the voters of Blue and White and the entire center-left bloc.”
Lapid lashed out that Gantz “decided to break up Blue and White to crawl into Bibi’s government. It’s unfathomable.” Yaalon said he was committing political suicide.
At the same time, welcoming words came from the right-wing. Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, head of the Yamina party: “I congratulate Benny Gantz on the brave step of entering into a unity government under Netanyahu. This is the right thing for Israel during this time of emergency.”