Establishing a minority government with the support of the predominantly Arab Joint List would be “a breaking point in the country’s history,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday at a Likud gathering in Tel Aviv described as “an emergency conference.”
According to Netanyahu, Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz and Gantz's party colleague Gabi Ashkenazi were “conducting negotiations with MKs who support terror organizations and want to destroy the country.” He added, “If a minority government like this is formed, they will celebrate in Tehran, Ramallah and Gaza, the way they celebrate after every terror attack. This would be a historic national attack on the State of Israel.”
As a result, he said, “Tomorrow we will meet in the Knesset with all the factions, because we understand that we have to take emergency action in an emergency situation.”
After Netanyahu’s address, Kahol Lavan issued a statement saying: “The residents of the south didn’t merit an ‘emergency conference,’ nor have the patients strewn in the hospital hallways, the elderly or the disabled. As usual, Netanyahu is concerned only with Netanyahu.”
Netanyahu met Sunday evening with Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman at Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv as part of the efforts to form a government. Both parties announced after the hour-long meeting that the sessions had been “good and businesslike,” and focused on ways to form a unity government. The two are to meet again to continue the discussion. In the afternoon, Kahol Lavan and Yisrael Beiteinu announced that they had made “real progress in formulating government guidelines, particularly in those areas touching on religion and state.” The parties added that they would meet again and that they were “moving toward signing on guidelines.”
A Likud minister told Haaretz during the event at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds that he believed Lieberman would join a government headed by Netanyahu in the end. “Gantz is making every possible mistake,” the minister said. “Instead of separating from [Yair] Lapid and joining up with Netanyahu, he is leading Lieberman to understand that there is no other possibility than a right-wing government. It’s going there.”
But a Likud MK who didn’t want to be identified wasn’t so sure. “It will be very hard for Gantz, but he could form a government,” he said. “Such a government, even if it didn’t last very long, would allow him to pass a series of laws like a law that would limit a premier to two terms, a conscription bill and other initiatives, and that would allow him to go to the next elections as a winning prime minister.”
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The Likud gathering was meant to be a show of Netanyahu’s strength and aimed to create broad public resistance to a minority government, but the hundreds of party activists who came hardly filled the huge hall. Placards in the hall bore slogans against Arabs and the state prosecution, including “Shai Nitzan should be investigated and Ben Ari jailed,” referring to the state prosecutor and Liat Ben Ari, the lead prosecutor in the Netanyahu corruption cases.
MK Miki Zohar, a major figure in Likud, emceed the assembly and took advantage of the podium to try to placate the man who holds the balance of power in the coalition talks – Lieberman – but every time he mentioned his name, the audience booed. “We call on you [Lieberman]; you started in Likud, you are a Likud man. Don’t lend a hand to the formation of a unity government against the prime minister. We in Likud will know how to appreciate that.” Netanyahu, however, did not mention Lieberman in his address. .
Zohar is convinced that the Lieberman-Netanyahu meeting Sunday evening was helping pave the Yisrael Beiteinu chairman’s way back to a right-wing government. Over the past few days Zohar has been promoting a compromise proposal in an effort to soften all the sides’ positions. For example, he suggests that a rightist-ultra-Orthodox government could promote public transportation on Shabbat using non-Jewish drivers and without collecting fares; local authorities would be permitted to open grocery stores on Shabbat with the approval of 75 percent of the local council members; and conversion will be transferred to the local rabbinates under the supervision of the Chief Rabbinate. When it comes to civil marriage, however, Zohar has yet to come up with a solution that could gain acceptance. Neither the ultra-Orthodox parties nor Lieberman have responded to his proposal.
Netanyahu had at first hoped that the party heads of the right-wing bloc of 55 would attend the gathering, but some did not want to come. A source in one of the parties said, “We don’t want to be part of Netanyahu’s circus. He can’t drag us to an event whenever he wants.”
As the other party heads deliberated Sunday morning whether to attend, in Likud there were fears that a partial showing would be perceived as a failure. Therefore, in the end it was agreed that the other party heads would not come; instead, there would be a meeting Monday of all the MKs from the right-wing bloc.