JERUSALEM, Israel – Blue and White Party leader Benny Gantz said on Thursday that he is open to forming a unity government with Benjamin Netanyahu, marking a dramatic shift in Israel's year-long political deadlock between Gantz's Blue and White and Netanyahu's Likud Party.
Gantz was given the mandate by President Reuven Rivlin on Monday to form a government coalition in Israel's 120-seat Knesset after a majority of parliament members recommended him over Netanyahu. He was given 28 days to create a viable government or the task will be given to someone else, most likely Netanyahu.
Now, after vowing to create a center-left government for months, Gantz says he is willing to sit on a unity government led by Netanyahu.
"At the moment all options need to be on the table. It wouldn't be responsible on my part not to consider any alternative," he told Israel's Channel 12 News in an interview.
Gantz has repeatedly vowed never to sit on a government with Netanyahu while the prime minister is embroiled in several criminal corruption cases.
Israel's ongoing battle with the coronavirus pandemic has but even more pressure on leaders to form a stable government and avoid a fourth national election this year.
Gantz said Israel needs a government that can "cope with the health, economic and social aspects of the coronavirus crisis and at the same time to preserve Israeli democracy."
"I hear that the citizens are interested in a solution to the political crisis," he said. "For me, it's of the utmost importance not to ask [me] about what I had said but mostly what needs to be done."
However, sitting on a government led by Netanyahu could mean breaking up Gantz's own party because fellow Blue and White leaders Yair Lapid and Moshe Ya'alon refuse to join a government with Netanyahu.
When asked in the interview if he would break up his party to join Netanyahu, Gantz said: "In Blue and White, we know how to conduct political discourse. When the time comes, we will discuss, and we will know how to make the decision."
Gantz's evening interview came after the Blue and White party released a statement denying reports that he was considering breaking up his party to serve on a government with Netanyahu.
Gantz said in the statement that his party broke off negotiations with Likud and no agreements had been reached.
But Israel's Channel 13 reported that negotiations between Likud and Blue and White did take place on Thursday and the leaders discussed the length of Netanyahu's tenure as prime minister in a rotation with Gantz.
On Thursday, Netanyahu released a statement again calling for a unity government with Blue and White.