Gantz's Party Changes Course as Efforts to Form a Minority Government Face Hurdles

In a bid to pass legislation barring an indicted lawmaker from becoming PM, Kahol Lavan plans to replace incumbent Knesset speaker

Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz (left) and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein attending the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Jerusalem, January 2020.
Ohad Zwigenberg

Having failed so far to secure a Knesset majority for a prospective government, Benny Gantz's party intends to focus in the coming days on replacing Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein of Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party with a Kahol Lavan lawmaker.

Replacing Edelstein could let Kahol Lavan push through legislation to prevent Netanyahu from forming a government while under indictment. Netanyahu's trial for bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three graft cases is set to begin on Tuesday.

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On Tuesday, Gesher party head Orli Levi-Abekasis, who ran on a joint ticket with the left-wing Labor and Meretz parties in the last election, announced that she won’t support any government that is backed by the Arab-majority alliance Joint List.

Without at least some of the Joint List's 15 out of 120 Knesset seats, Gantz is unlikely to secure enough votes to approve a minority government comprised of Kahol Lavan, Labor-Gesher-Meretz and Yisrael Beiteinu.

 A Kahol Lavan lawmaker called Levi-Abekasis' declaration, "a great fault," adding that "without her support we would have to rely on Balad to form a government, making things a lot more complicated."

Balad, one of the Joint List's four factions, is considered more right-wing than the other three and more hawkish in its stance on the Palestinian issue.

The lawmaker said that Kahol Lavan's current mission is "to move step by step – to ensure enough parties recommend President Reuven Rivlin to task Gantz with forming the next government and then to seize control of the Knesset. We'll replace Edelstein, and pass the legislation, while gaining leverage over Netanyahu."  

The source could not say whether Kahol Lavan would have a majority to implement the plan. On Wednesday, Gantz's inner circle didn't rule out the possibility of forming a unity government with Netanyahu against the backdrop of the novel coronavirus outbreak, but made clear that this is not a step they are advancing at this stage.

On Thursday, the Health Ministry said three new cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed, bringing the total in the country to 100.

Should Rivlin give Gantz the mandate to form a new coalition, the Kahol Lavan leader would use up the 42 days the law allows to do so despite the current obstacles he faces. Gantz will try to reach understandings within his party with lawmakers Yoaz Hendel and Zvi Hauser, the most prominent rightists in Kahol Lavan who oppose forming a government reliant on outside support of the Joint List. Meanwhile, Gantz's associates are examining possible alternatives to form a governing coalition.

On Wednesday, Kahol Lavan MKs Ofer Shelah and Avi Nissenkorn met with representatives of the Joint List as part of the negotiations to forge a minority government headed by Gantz. Joint List's faction heads Mtanes Shehadeh (Balad), Ahmad Tibi (Ta'al), Mansour Abbas (Ra'am), and Aida Touma-Suleiman (Hadash) were all in attendance.

Tibi said the meeting was "practical" and that the sides discussed "upcoming parliamentary issues as well as the issue of backing Gantz for prime minister." According to Tibi, the sides are slated to meet again.

Tibi added that "the Joint List will do everything to leverage its achievement (in the election), and will decide within the alliance what is best for our electorate."

Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh declared on Tuesday that the list will act "as one party." 

In contrast to their stance following the two previous election cycles, Balad Members told Haaretz on Tuesday that should Gantz agree to their demands, they would endorse him for prime minister.

The demands include refraining from unilateral steps such as annexing settlements or altering the status quo on the Temple Mount. Balad also seeks a repeal of the so-called Kaminitz Law, which increased the penalties for illegal construction.

Also on Wednesday, Rivlin said after receiving the official election results that his plan for forming a government composed of both Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz's parties still stands.

According to Rivlin’s plan, the government would be formed with blocs of equal size, in which the powers of the deputy prime minister would be expanded if the sitting prime minister were to become incapacitated, as Netanyahu's trial in three corruption cases begins.