Two Days Before Election, Gantz Dismisses Possibility of Unity Government With Netanyahu

Left-wing alliance leader Amir Peretz says Kahol Lavan could form minority government with outside support from Yisrael Beiteinu, Joint List

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From left: Benny Gantz, Shas leader Arye Dery, Benjamin Netanyahu, Knesset, Jerusalem, January 24, 2020.
From left: Benny Gantz, Shas leader Arye Dery, Benjamin Netanyahu, Knesset, Jerusalem, January 24, 2020.Credit: Emil Salman

Kahol Lavan chairman Benny Gantz dismissed the possibility of forming a unity government with current Prime Minister Netanyahu in a TV interview on Saturday.

“There are no circumstances in which I’d serve under Netanyahu as prime minister while three indictments hang over him,” Gantz told journalist Rina Matzliach on a special edition of Channel 12’s flagship political program, Meet the Press, which featured Israel’s major party leaders.

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On Friday, Labor party leader Amir Peretz said Kahol Lavan had agreed to form a minority government with his Labor-Gesher-Meretz left-wing alliance. This would be possible with outside support from Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu and the predominantly Arab Joint List, Peretz told activists at a party event. Lieberman said there was no chance a unity government on Thursday. Both Lieberman and Gantz said such an agreement was non-exisent.

There is no love lost between the secular nationalist and the Joint List. The former defense minister, who has been this election’s kingmaker, crossed paths with Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh, whom he followed on Saturday’s Meet The Press. They pointedly ignored one another. Matzliach wondered: “No handshake? Nothing?” Odeh said in response: “He’s a defense-issue prattler, a paper tiger”, to which Lieberman said: “I hope that in the course of territorial and population swaps we’ll also get rid of Ayman Odeh,” referring to the potential population transfer floated by the Trump administration’s Mideast peace plan.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu said he would not be seeking to secure parliamentary immunity from prosecution, should he be re-elected this week. Israel’s longest-reigning prime minister is expected to go on trial two weeks after the election on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust stemming from accusations he accepted lavish gifts from billionaire friends and promised to promote advantageous legislation for a major newspaper in exchange for favorable coverage.

After failing to secure immunity last month, insiders speculated that Netanyahu would attempt to pass legislation to avoid prosecution, a bill known in Israel as the French law, if he secures a parliamentary majority; but the Likud leader flatly denied this would happen.

‘It sounds cooked’

The interview also touched on the latest scandal to plague a dispirited groundhog election campaign, a leaked recording of Gantz’s former strategic adviser Yisrael Bachar, in which he is heard saying the Kahol Lavan leader “could endanger the people of Israel” and that he didn’t have the courage to attack Iran. “It sounds to me like a manipulated recording,” Gantz told Matzliach, adding that this was “a very grave matter…Yisrael Bachar doesn’t have a clue about security matters.”

“Bachar says from his heart that he understands that Gantz is doing something wrong,” Netanyahu told Matzliach on Saturday night. Over the weekend, Bachar’s interlocutor in that recording turned out to be Rabbi Guy Habura, who has ties to the Likud leader and was reported to have met Netanyahu at an event in Tel Aviv last week. In his interview on Channel 12, Netanyahu denied speaking with Habura.

Yisrael Bachar at Kahol Lavan headquarters, Tel Aviv, September 2019.Credit: Ilan Assayag

In the conversation, which was aired last Thursday on Channel 12 News, Bachar is heard saying that Kahol Lavan lawmaker Omer Yankelevich “says that he’s [Gantz] stupid, a nothing who should never be prime minister.” His interlocutor says that “Kahol Lavan will lead to a wrong decision and will stop the urging to attack Iran.” Bachar answers: “I know, that’s the man.”

The release of the recording caught Kahol Lavan by surprise and led to the dismissal of Bachar, who was considered a mainstay in the party’s election team. The adviser later said that this was part of a campaign of deception and cheating that has broken all records of meanness.

In the past, Bachar served as a strategic adviser to Netanyahu and Naftali Bennett. He has worked with Kahol Lavan since it was founded last year. In April 2019, he told Channel 13 News that leaks from closed conversations at Kahol Lavan headquarters had cost the party two to three Knesset seats. He said of Gantz that “any new candidate has the disadvantage of having to define himself at record speed and convince the public that what he says expresses what he really stands for.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.