Gantz Backs Off of Unity With Netanyahu, Eyes Control of Parliament Instead

Kahol Lavan open to letting current government extend term for six months while it continues pushing law preventing an indicted Netanyahu from being prime minister

A billboard in Tel Aviv shows Benjamin Netanyahu, Avigdor Lieberman and Benny Gantz wearing masks, March 2020.
Ofer Vaknin

Kahol Lavan Chairman Benny Gantz has stepped back from the possibility of joining a unity government headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with his party now considering a plan letting the current government serve another six months while Kahol Lavan takes control of the Knesset.

The party, however, is continuing with its plan to replace Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein with Kahol Lavan lawmaker Meir Cohen, after party leaders met Friday and Monday to discuss the matter and despite threats from Likud that this would halt talks to form a unity government.

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While last week Gantz agreed in principle to join a unity government with Likud that would be headed by Netanyahu for a limited period until Gantz replaced him, he has pulled back following criticism from supporters. 

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“First, we will get Israeli democracy back to working – and later we will form a government that will deal with the coronavirus and the other challenges that are on the line,” Gantz wrote on Facebook on Tuesday. “We must not let the coronavirus crisis, which requires thorough attention – medical, social and economic – trample over Israeli democracy. Not on my watch.”

Following the response to his agreement to a Netanyahu-led government, as reported by Haaretz and Channel 12 News, Gantz realized that joining such a cabinet would spell political suicide, making him an expendable, uninfluential presence in the cabinet. The coalition talks have stopped in recent days and no further meetings are expected at this point.

Kahol Lavan has no other real alternatives. For now, the right-wing parties are showing no signs of dropping their support for Netanyahu and are following his hard line despite growing criticism from within. Replacing Netanyahu with someone else from Likud is not on the agenda.

The option of Kahol Lavan forming a government with the support of the Joint List of Arab-majority parties also became a nonstarter after two Kahol Lavan lawmakers, Yoaz Hendel and Zvi Hauser, told Gantz on Friday they would vote against such a government at any price.

Yair Lapid, the chairman of Yesh Atid – one of the three parties that make up the Kahol Lavan alliance – has begun promoting an alternative: passing a law that would freeze the political situation for six months and then resume the coalition building process at the point the parties left off, while promising to support bills relevant to the crisis. Kahol Lavan would not join this emergency government but would support the relevant bills.  

Some Kahol Lavan lawmakers do not believe they would have any real influence in an emergency government and prefer to let Netanyahu deal with the coronavirus crisis – for better or worse. Kahol Lavan prefers to control the Knesset, helping it pass legislation preventing someone under indictment from serving as prime minister.