Gantz Eyes Unity With Netanyahu First as PM, Even at Price of Breaking Up Kahol Lavan

Despite opposition from senior members of his own party, Gantz is weighing the move but demands a law to ensure that the rotation takes place on a set date

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Kahol Lavan's Moshe Ya'alon, left, and Benny Gantz in Tel Aviv, March 2020.
Kahol Lavan's Moshe Ya'alon, left, and Benny Gantz in Tel Aviv, March 2020. Credit: Moti Milrod

Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz is inclined to form a unity government with Benjamin Netanyahu serving as prime minister first in a rotation, despite Gantz’s suspicions of his rival and even at the price of breaking up Kahol Lavan, political sources said.

Gantz is conditioning the move on the enacting of a law to ensure that the rotation takes place on a set date.

Earlier this week, Gantz said his broad unity government would “heal Israeli society of the coronavirus, as well of the virus of hatred and division.”

But former Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, one of Kahol Lavan’s four leaders, refuses to join a unity government led by Netanyahu, even if an agreement on setting up such a cabinet is reached with Likud, the sources said. Ya’alon declined to comment.

The sources said another of Kahol Lavan’s top four, former military chief Gabi Ashkenazi, told Gantz he would not join a government supported by the Joint List of Arab parties.

According to the sources, so far it appears that the right and center-left in the unity government would have an equal number of ministers – Likud, the ultra-Orthodox parites and the far-right Yamina on one side and Kahol Lavan, Labor and Meretz on the other. This would happen even though the right-wing bloc has more seats in the Knesset.

Kahol Lavan's Gabi Ashkenazi, left, and Benny Gantz in Sderot, February 2020.
Kahol Lavan's Gabi Ashkenazi, left, and Benny Gantz in Sderot, February 2020.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Officially, Kahol Lavan said in a statement Thursday: “Talks with Likud’s negotiating team have been halted  ... and contrary to media reports, there are no agreements.”

Kahol Lavan on 33 of the Knesset’s 120 seats in the March 2 election, coming in second to Likud at 36 seats.

Yair Lapid, the other member of Kahol Lavan’s top four, is still agonizing over whether to join a government led by Netanyahu or remain in the opposition, the sources said.

Gantz reportedly believes that even if Ya’alon and Lapid refused to enter the government, some members of Ya’alon’s Telem faction and Lapid’s Yesh Atid would take part.

After three days of negotiations between Kahol Lavan and Likud, no real progress has been made. But unlike the disagreement the two parties had after the September election, this time both sides agree that Netanyahu would be the first to serve as prime minister.

But they disagree on the time he would be in office. Netanyahu demands that he serve for two years before Gantz replaces him, while Kahol Lavan insists on a much shorter term.

Kahol Lavan's Yair Lapid in Tel Aviv, March 2020.
Kahol Lavan's Yair Lapid in Tel Aviv, March 2020.Credit: Moti Milrod

Arye Dery, the leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, is trying to forge a compromise and has even promised Gantz that if the rotation isn’t implemented on the agreed date, he would withdraw his support for Netanyahu, the sources said.

The sides also disagree about who will be the next justice minister, although they agree it will not be the current minister, Amir Ohana of Likud. Nor do they see eye to eye on Israel’s possible annexation of the Jordan Valley.

While the talks continue, Kahol Lavan aims to move ahead to replace Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein of Likud and advance legislation banning a person under criminal indictment from serving as prime minister. The move is seen as intended to put pressure on Netanyahu if the coalition talks stall.

Netanyahu’s corruption trial had been due to begin this week, but Ohana froze the work of the court system, citing the exigencies of the coronavirus crisis.

Jonathan Lis contributed to this report.

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