Netanyahu Says Agreed With Gantz on Unity Government; Gantz Denies

Amid calls for an 'emergency' government to handle the coronavirus outbreak, the premier vows to quit after a year and a half

Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a press conference in Jerusalem, March 19, 2020.
יואב דודקביץ

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Saturday his party's negotiation team has reached agreements with Benny Gantz's Kahol Lavan on an emergency unity government, which would see Gantz replace him after a year and a half.

Netanyahu told Channel 12 News no agreement has been signed, but provided the details he claims were agreed upon, including rotation for the position of prime minister and an equal number of government portfolios for both parties.

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Gantz said in a tweet shortly after Netanyahu's interview: "Whoever wants unity doesn't work with ultimatums, doesn't use biased leaks and certainly doesn't hurt democracy and citizens."

According to Netanyahu, his party will retain the finance portfolio, while the new justice minister will be "a mutually agreed upon candidate."

The current justice minister, Amir Ohana, is of Netanyahu's party and considered close to him.

Netanyahu blasted senior Kahol Lavan member Yair Lapid, arguing he is to blame for preventing a unity government. Lapid responded in a tweet, saying the premier "is constantly lying on TV in the middle of a national health crisis."

Earlier on Saturday, Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman said that Israel "needs a unity government" amid efforts to contain the coronavirus outbreak, adding his party is willing to support a government led by Netanyahu, despite stark opposition to such a scenario going into the March 2 election.

"We need a unity government," Lieberman told Channel 12 News, citing the coronavirus crisis as a reason. "It doesn't matter whether it's led by Gantz or Netanyahu."

Lieberman has backed a unity government for months, but leading up to the March vote, declared "there's no more unity," and vowed to form a government without the prime minister. He later claimed Netanyahu's political career is over and that he can no longer serve as prime minister, citing Netanyahu's impending corruption trial.

With the coronavirus outbreak in Israel, Netanyahu called on Kahol Lavan's Gantz, as well as Labor Chairman Amir Peretz and Lieberman, to join an "emergency" unity government.

The leader of the Yisrael Beiteinu party Avigdor Lieberman, in the city of Modiin, March 2, 2020.
Tsafrir Abayov,AP

On Friday, Gantz responded to Netanyahu's demand that the Knesset should not be exempt from Health Ministry emergency closure orders and should be shut down, saying "There will not be a government in Israel if there will not be a functioning Knesset, as democracy demands."

The move would also prevent Gantz, Netanyahu’s chief rival, from forming a government in the 24 days he has left to do so, after being given the task by President Reuven Rivlin on Monday.

Earlier on Thursday, political sources said 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.

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.”