Netanyahu in Last-minute Plea to Lieberman as Gantz Ally Drops Political Bombshell

Ahead of an all but certain third election in a year, Kahol Lavan co-leader Lapid gives up demand for rotation with Gantz for prime minister, neutralizing a major Likud campaign point

Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson
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Yair Lapid in a Kahol Lavan press conference, September 2019.
Yair Lapid in a Kahol Lavan press conference, September 2019. Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson

Kahol Lavan co-leader Yair Lapid said Monday he would forgo his long-standing demand to be prime minister in a rotation government with party leader Benny Gantz, countering a major Likud campaign message days before a third election cycle in a year is all but sure to be announced. 

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"If there is another election, there will be no rotation," said Lapid, "A large and united Kahol Lavan will follow Benny Gantz as its candidate for premier." He added that he does not feel like he is "giving up," but rather that "it's a great privilege to be part of the change that this country desperately needs."

In turn, Gantz said that he will negotiate with Benjamin Netanyahu if he would not request the Knesset to grant him immunity from standing trial in three corruption cases.

Shortly after, Netanyahu addressed Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman, urging him to "quickly negotiate in the remaining 48 hours in order to establish a strong national government."

"Gantz and Lapid, enough with the transparent tricks meant to distract from the fact that you have refused a broad unity government that will make a defense treaty with the United States and annex large parts of the West Bank," Netanyahu said in a statement. He added that a narrow right-wing government is the only remaining option to prevent another election in Israel. 

Lieberman was quick to reply, telling Likud officials a narrow government is "unacceptable." He added such a government would "spell double trouble for Israel."

After both Netanyahu and Gantz had failed to form a coalition within the period given to them, the mandate to form a government returned to the Knesset, allowing any lawmaker to gain the support of 61 Knesset members within 21 days. If a government is not formed by Wednesday at midnight, the Knesset will dissolve, sending Israel to the polls for the third time within a year.

According to a public opinion poll published Monday by Kan public broadcaster, Kahol Lavan would win 35 out of 120 Knesset seats, if a new election is held, followed closely by Likud with 34.

Right-wing parties are collectively predicted 56 seats and the center-left bloc 57, both short of a clear majority.

In the lead-up to Israel's last election in September, Likud made a major talking point out of Lapid's co-leadership in Kahol Lavan, warning voters in campaign ads that a vote for Gantz would bring about a government headed by the former talk-show host Lapid. 

Polls conducted in the previous campaign predicted that Kahol Lavan would possibly secure three more Knesset seats if Lapid would drop out of the rotation agreement between him and Gantz - but he refused. 

Earlier on Monday, Kahol Lavan and Netanyahu's Likud agreed that if the current Knesset is dissolved, the next election will take place on March 2. The agreed upon date is eight days sooner than is stipulated by law and falls on a Monday, whereas elections in Israel typically take place on a Tuesday.

Gantz said in a party meeting Monday that Netanyahu should not ask the Knesset for immunity from prosecution in order to allow for a fruitful negotiation in the coming days. According to Gantz, "We can spare Israel an election and stop working for our own interests and start working for Israel's citizens."

According to law, Netanyahu has 23 more days to ask the Knesset for immunity – a 30-days window since Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit has submitted the indictment to the Knesset speaker.