Israel Election 2019: Kahol Lavan MKs Say They Prefer Unity Government With Netanyahu Over Third Election

Netanyahu called on Gantz to meet with him, form a unity government ■ Lawmakers say they know move will break party leader's vow, but worry over Israel's future

Kahol Lavan's Benny Gantz, flanked by Gabi Ashkenazi, attend the memorial for Shimon Peres, September 19, 2019.
Olivier Fitoussi

Two influential Knesset members from Kahol Lavan told Haaretz on Wednesday that they are willing to join a unity government with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, shortly before the premier called on Gantz to meet with him immediately and begin negotiations.

Both the prime minister and the two Kahol Lavan members said that they would prefer a unity government over sending Israel to a third election.

Netanyahu called on Benny Gantz to meet him "at any hour" today and form a unity government. "Benny, it is on us to form a broad unity government. Today. The nation expects us, both of us, to accept responsibility and work together," he said.

>> Read more: Israelis want nicer rightists in power | Analysis ■ If Netanyahu's right, get ready for a third general election | Analysis ■ Israel election results: Live updates

Kahol Lavan and its leadership have made it very clear – time after time in recent days – that Gantz is sticking to his decision not to join a government with Netanyahu because of the criminal suspicions against him. However, the former Israeli army chief of staff did indicate that he is still interested in a unity government with Likud – minus Netanyahu.

One of the Kahol Lavan lawmakers clarified that his opinion does not reflect the positions of the four senior party leaders. However, he added that he thinks the leadership's convictions will be put to the test if the only two options are forming a government with Netanyahu or sending the nation to a third election.

“If we reach the last moment and the choice is between calling another election or cooperation with Netanyahu, I think we will need to retreat from our opposition to Netanyahu as a person, despite the damage it will cause to our image,” said one of the MKs.

“Calling an election is unhealthy for Israeli society and bad for us as a party,” he added. “Such a step depends, of course, on the final election results and in any case we must not compromise and allow Netanyahu to advance the immunity process.”

The election results have left Kahol Lavan lawmakers confused: Neither Netanyahu or Gantz have a majority that would allow them to assemble a new government coalition. As opposed to the previous election in April, Gantz was careful on Tuesday night not to give a victory speech when the television exit polls were released. The party preferred to lower its profile and wait for the final, official results.

The only step Kahol Lavan took was to release the names of the members of the party’s negotiating team ahead of the consultations President Reuven Rivlin will hold with all the parties next week: Yoram Turbowitz, Shalom Shlomo, Hod Betzer, Hillel Kobrinsky and Yisrael Bachar.

Kahol Lavan's silence since the election is even more evident in comparison with Netanyahu, who rushed to convene his party lawmakers, invite the press and declare his intention to form the next government. Even before that, Netanyahu made sure to release materials from his meeting with the heads of the right-wing parties, who decided to cooperate and enable Netanyahu to exhaust the possibility of forming a government with them.

The four leaders of Kahol Lavan, the party’s “cockpit” as they are called – Gantz, Yair Lapid, Moshe Ya’alon and Gabi Ashkenazi – have not met with the press. Any contacts with possible coalition partners to form an opposing bloc that would keep Netanyahu from forming a government before the consultations with Rivlin have not been reported.

At the Kahol Lavan event on Tuesday night after the exit polls were broadcast, Gantz, Ya’alon and Ashkenazi mostly used the time to thank their many supporters and campaign workers. Lapid tried to prepare the crowd for his political agenda: “In the next few days, we will mostly need patience. It is a long process, delicate, complex and in the most part will be conducted behind closed doors.”