Israeli Labor Party Leader Mulls Joining Netanyahu Government

Amir Peretz might join unity government between Gantz and Likud if coalition promises focus on social reform

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Labor party chairman Amir Peretz speaks to the press, Tel Aviv, March 12, 2020.
Labor party chairman Amir Peretz speaks to the press, Tel Aviv, March 12, 2020.Credit: Daniel Bar-On
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

Labor Chairman Amir Peretz signaled his willingness to join a unity government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz on Friday, should coalition talks include far-reaching social reforms.

Speaking in an interview on an Israeli TV talk show, Peretz said his decision would rest on whether Gantz and Netanyahu would "continue making the weakest in society pay the highest price. I will demand there be real social plans. If that is there, I’ll be glad to make my contribution.”

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In the latest chapter of Israel's most dramatic year in politics, Benny Gantz was unexpectedly voted in as Knesset speaker on Thursday, paving the way for an "emergency" unity government with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as Israel works to mitigate the damages caused by the coronavirus crisis.

Peretz's decision to join the government does not dramatically alter the political balance, as there are only three Labor lawmakers in the new Knesset, and one of them, Merav Michaeli, might decide to defect to Meretz, which sits further left on the political specturm, if Labor joins Netanyahu.

Seventy-four Knesset members voted for Gantz's appointment on Thursday, indicating the kind of parliamentary support the next coalition could expect.

After vowing never to sit with the Likud leader, who is facing trial for charges of corruption, fraud and breach of trust, the former IDF chief-of-staff, who started his political career only a year ago, eventually relented, a move which led to the disbandment of his centrist political alliance, Kahol Lavan, in the process.

Kahol Lavan's co-leaders Yair Lapid and Moshe Ya'alon, who were critical of Gantz's decision, filed a request on Thursday to split their Knesset roster. Their two factions will remain as one party under the name Kahol Lavan.

Under the agreement, which has yet to be finalized, Gantz would become prime minister in 18 months. He will be joined by another Kahol Lavan leader, Gabi Ashkenazi, also a former army chief-of-staff, who is expected to receive the defense portfolio. Gantz's faction will get the all-important justice ministry, and therefore could ensure Netanyahu does not use it to shield himself from prosecution, a major concern during the campaign.

In his first speech as Knesset speaker, Gantz argued for an "emergency national unity government" to allow Israel to recover from the coronavirus outbreak. "These are not normal times," he told lawmakers, "and they call for unusual decisions."

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