JERUSALEM, Israel — Israeli leaders went back to focusing on politics Monday after the country faced a barrage of more than 400 rockets over the last week – including a rocket attack on the southern city of Beersheba over the weekend.
The chances of Israel going to a third election in less than a year appear to be higher after Blue and White party members reportedly expressed pessimism over leader Benny Gantz’s ability to form a government coalition before his deadline expires on Wednesday.
Blue and White members told Haaretz Sunday evening that Gantz will probably be unable to form a minority government supported by Ysrael Beytenu’s Avigdor Liberman with the external backing of the predominately Arab Joint List.
“If Liberman won’t vote for a minority government, we won’t be able to have one. At the moment it seems that he does not support one, but we will keep trying until the last minute,” one of the unnamed Blue and White officials told Haaretz.
Liberman is still pushing Gantz to form a unity government with Netanyahu’s Likud party, but that is unlikely to happen.
While speaking at an event in Tel Aviv Sunday night, Liberman said a minority government with the backing of the Arab parties would be a “disaster” for Israel and a broad unity government is the only way forward.
“The next 48 hours will be critical to know whether there is a government committed to preventing further elections,” Liberman said. “It is impossible to deal with a minority government.”
Prime Minister Netanyahu told supporters during a meeting in Tel Aviv Saturday that a minority government with the backing of the Arab parties would be worse than forcing Israel into a third election.
“We are standing before an emergency situation that we have never had before in the State of Israel,” Netanyahu said in the conference call. “Going to a [third] election would be a disaster, but forming a government that is dependent on the Arab parties would be a worse disaster. This would be a historic danger for Israeli security.”
Netanyahu accused the Arab politicians of supporting terrorists and seeking to destroy the State of Israel.
However, the likelihood of Gantz forming a minority government with the backing of the Arab parties is slim, especially after Blue and White fully supported Israel’s assassination of senior Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror chief Baha Abu al-Ata and the fighting that ensued afterward. Members of the Joint List responded to the assassination by protesting and calling the targeted killing a “war crime.”
The Times of Israel reports that Gantz has met with members of the Joint List but has not expressed support for the establishment of a minority government with the Arab parties’ external backing. Arab politicians also say they have not received an official proposal from Gantz for such a government.
Rivlin is pushing Gantz to form a unity government, according to the Kan public broadcaster.
Rivlin gave Gantz the mandate to form a government after Netanyahu failed to do so following the September elections.
Rivlin has suggested Likud and Blue and White agree to a power-sharing deal, where Netanyahu would serve as prime minister for half the term followed by Gantz. According to Rivlin’s proposal, Netanyahu would take a leave of absence if he is indicted in his three ongoing corruption cases.
Gantz has not committed to Rivlin’s proposal mainly because he is concerned Netanyahu will not take a leave of absence if he is indicted on corruption charges.
If Gantz is unable to form a government coalition, Knesset members may choose a candidate to be given the mandate or the country will head back to the polls — the third in less than a year.