Netanyahu and Gantz sign deal for unity government

Agreement leaves Netanyahu in PM’s chair for next 18 months when he will be replaced by Gantz, who will serve as defense minister in interim; Blue & White gets 16 ministries in 32-member government, the largest in Israel’s history

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his chief rival Benny Gantz said on Monday that they have forged a deal to form an “emergency” unity government.
The deal between Netanyahu’s ruling Likud Party and Gantz’ Blue and White ends months of political paralysis and averts what would have been a fourth consecutive election since April 2019.
Under the agreement, the two party leaders will rotate the prime minister’s post for the three-year term of the government, with Netanyahu remaining in office for the first year and a half.
Former IDF chief Gantz will serve in the interim as defense minister and as locum prime minister should the need arise.
The government is expected to include 32 ministers and more than a dozen deputy ministers, making it the largest in Israel’s history.
Blue and White will receive 16 ministries, including defense, foreign affairs for half of the term; justice, immigration and absorption, culture and sports, economics and welfare (which have been earmarked for Labor’s Amir Peretz and Itzik Shmuli), communications, agriculture, strategic issues, tourism, social equality, and diaspora affairs.
Gantz’s political partner Gabi Ashkenazi will serve as foreign minister during the first 18 months.
Likud will receive the foreign affairs portfolio for half of the term, public security, transportation, housing, education, environmental protection, energy, Jerusalem affairs, and other less key posts.
The agreement also gives Netanyahu veto power over the appointment of the attorney general and state prosecutor – the two senior officials who oversaw the prime minister’s indictment for bribery, fraud and breach of trust.
During the period of an “emergency government,” which is set to last six months, there will be no appointments requiring government approval. This means that acting state prosecutor Dan Eldad, who was appointed by the justice minister and Netanyahu ally Amir Ohana, will remain in post.
The two sides also decided that if the High Court of Justice rules before the new government is sworn in that Netanyahu cannot form a coalition due to the indictments against him, the agreement becomes void and the Knesset will dissolve. Should that happen, Netanyahu would remain prime minister until new elections are held.
The committee for judicial nominations will include two MKs from Likud as well as Derekh Eretz MK Zvi Hauser as “the representative from the opposition.”
Gantz on the campaign trail promised not to sit in a government led by a prime minister facing criminal charges, but he recently backtracked, saying the enormity of the coronavirus crisis necessitated an emergency unity government.
“We have prevented a fourth election. We will protect democracy. We will fight coronavirus and care for all of Israel’s citizens,” Gantz said on Twitter after signing the deal.
Netanyahu tweeted a picture of Israel’s blue and white flag, followed by a statement that read: “I promised the State of Israel a national emergency government that will work to save the lives and livelihoods of the citizens of Israel.”
The deal states that Likud will take over the leadership of the Knesset’s coronavirus committee.
After the deal was signed, Netanyahu called Education Minister Rafi Peretz and Defense Minister Naftali Bennett to inform them that an agreement had been reached. Netanyahu is expected to offer Bennett’s Yamina party two ministerial posts although it had been angling for three.
Yamina said in response that, “Netanyahu has shown us the door.”
The unity agreement includes a clause that states that Israel will assume sovereignty over the West Bank on July 1, a move that has drawn massive international criticism when it was announced as part of U.S. President Donald Trump’s plan for Middle East peace.
Blue & White said: “The Trump plan will be moved forward responsibly, with protection of the strategic assets of the State of Israel and of regional stability.”
‘Slap in the face of Israeli majority’ Joint List leader Ayman Odeh slammed the agreement, calling it a “slap in the face” for the majority of Israelis.
“Gantz and Netanyahu’s government of surrender is a slap in the face of the civilian majority who goes to the polls time and time again to oust Netanyahu,” said Odeh, who backed Gantz to form the government in the wake of the March 2 elections.
“Gantz was not courageous enough to triumph and chose to legitimize annexation, racism, and corruption,” Odeh said.
The announcement also drew fire from Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman, who has long been a backer of a unity government to end the political stalemate.
He dismissed it as “another government of [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu and his religious-messianic bloc.”
“I welcome the establishment of the government, although it is not a unity government,” Liberman said.
“This is another government of Netanyahu and the Haredi-messianic bloc with a fig leaf from two senior [IDF officers],” he said, referring to Gantz and Ashkenazi, both former army chiefs.
Liberman added that his party would be part of the “substantive opposition.”
The article was published in Ynet

Netanyahu, Gantz say near unity deal as Rivlin extends mandate

PM and Blue & white leader say they’ve made ‘significant progress’ following an overnight meeting, prompting the president to extend Gantz’s 28- days mandate to form coalition by 2 extra days

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his main rival Benny Gantz were nearing a deal on Tuesday to form a national emergency government to battle the coronavirus crisis and end the country’s unprecedented political deadlock.
 
Gantz’s 28-day mandate to put together a ruling coalition after last month’s inconclusive election was due to expire at midnight, but President Reuven Rivlin, who is overseeing the coalition talks, extended it for two days.
Rivlin did so, his office said, “on the understanding that they are very close to reaching an agreement.”
Gantz and Netanyahu met overnight in a last-ditch effort to settle their differences. Afterwards they issued a joint statement saying they had made “significant progress.” The two are set to meet again with their negotiating teams later in the morning.
The impasse, after national elections in April and September 2019 and again last month, raised the prospect of a fourth ballot, complicating any plans for economic recovery once the coronavirus outbreak eases.
Without a deal, it will be up to parliament to pick a candidate who would then have 14 days to form a government. Failure to do so would automatically trigger a snap election.
“Netanyahu, this is our moment of truth. It’s either a national emergency government or, God forbid, a fourth election which would be expensive and, in this crisis period, gratuitous,” Gantz said late on Monday in broadcast remarks.
Gantz said the enormity of the coronavirus emergency had caused him to break a campaign promise not to sit in a government with Netanyahu, who has been indicted on corruption charges.
Netanyahu, who has headed successive caretaker administrations during the political stalemate, denies the charges.
In his own televised statement, the veteran premier imposed a ban on inter-city travel for the final days of the Passover holiday this week to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
Restrictions already in place have confined most Israelis to their homes for weeks, forcing many businesses to close and sending unemployment soaring to more than 25%.
Netanyahu said his cabinet could formulate an “exit strategy” as soon as this weekend, though he cautioned restrictions on the economy and education would be eased gradually and that there would be no full return to routine before a coronavirus vaccine is discovered.

With 99% of votes counted, right-wing bloc at 58 seats, 3 shy of majority

As double envelopes are tallied and updated, Likud climbs to 36 and Blue and White to 33, at expense of Joint List and Shas: results could fluctuate further

Officials count ballots from the elections at the Knesset in Jerusalem, March 4, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Officials count ballots from the elections at the Knesset in Jerusalem, March 4, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

As votes cast in so-called double envelopes in the Knesset elections were being tallied, the Central Election Committee updated the count Wednesday morning, giving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party and the centrist rival Blue and White led by Benny Gantz an extra seat apiece, leaving the premier’s bloc of right-wing supporters at 58 seats.

After 99% of the votes were tallied, Likud gained a seat for a total of 36, with the rival Blue and White party also increasing its power from 32 to 33.

The Joint List of predominantly Arab parties dropped from 16 seats to 15, while the ultra-Orthodox Shas party dropped from 10 seats to 9.

The rest of the parties’ seat totals remained the same: seven for United Torah Judaism (UTJ), seven for Yisrael Beytenu, seven for Labor-Gesher-Meretz and six for Yamina.

Based on those seat totals, Likud and its allies would have 58 seats combined. The right-wing religious bloc supporting Netanyahu — consisting of Likud, Shas, UTJ and Yamina — though, falls short of the 61 seats needed to form a government.

NON-FINAL ELECTION RESULTS BASED ON COUNT OF 99% OF VOTES3636333315159977777766LikudBlue and WhiteJoint ListShasUnited Torah JudaismYisrael BeytenuLabor-Gesher-MeretzYamina010203040
Knesset blocs based on count of 99% of votes58584040151577Right-wing blocCenter-leftJoint ListYisrael Beytenu

The counting of the “double envelope” ballots of soldiers, police staff, diplomats, handicapped citizens, hospital patients and staff, and prisoners began overnight and was expected to conclude later in the day.

Final but unofficial results were likely to be published Wednesday night. The official results will only be published on March 10.

The Central Elections Committee announced late Tuesday that almost all of the votes cast in the elections had been tallied, with votes from 10,552 polling places across the country counted — 99% of the voting stations that were open during Monday’s elections, accounting for about 93% of the total vote.

Elections officials record ballots cast by Israelis under coronavirus quarantine, March 3, 2020. (Courtesy/Central Elections Committee)

Late Tuesday, hazmat-clad officials also unsealed and counted ballots cast by Israelis who could be carrying the coronavirus.

Some 4,076 Israelis under quarantine cast votes Monday in specially constructed isolation voting booths manned by medics in protective gear doubling as election officials.

Before the tally began, the Blue and White party claimed Netanyahu had ordered observers from his Likud party at the committee to interfere in the count. Gantz ordered his own party’s representatives to the committee to intensify their observation efforts as a result, according to the party.

“MK Avi Nissenkorn, the faction chairman, has now been called to oversee from up close the work of the Central Elections Committee to ensure the counting is carried out properly and without intentional disruptions,” Blue and White said in a statement.

Blue and White did not provide any evidence to back up its claim against Netanyahu.

A composite image of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Benny Gantz at polling stations in Jerusalem and Rosh Haayin, respectively, during the Knesset elections on March 2, 2020. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL, AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

Monday’s election was largely seen as a referendum on Netanyahu, who will go on trial later this month for bribery, fraud and breach of trust but is thought to be seeking support for a legislative mechanism to grant him immunity.

Despite a jubilant victory party and proclamations of victory from supporters, exit polling and the non-final result numbers showed he would likely come up shy of a needed 61-seat majority.

Gantz admitted to supporters early Tuesday that the party’s showing was disappointing, but refused to concede. He later appeared to rule out joining a unity government led by Netanyahu, narrowing the premier’s options to form a coalition.

Netanyahu could attempt to bring in the secularist Yisrael Beytenu, which looks set to once again play kingmaker. He’ll be helped by the prospect of continued deadlock and a fourth election, seen as a doomsday scenario, but one that is increasingly realistic.

Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman speaks at the party headquarters in Modi’in, on elections night, March 2, 2020. (Sraya Diamant/ Flash90)

Party head Avigdor Liberman vowed Monday he would not join a Likud-led government that includes ultra-Orthodox parties, but he has also refused to join a coalition with the Arab-led Joint List.

“We won’t move a millimeter from what we promised our voters,” he said.

Likud lawmakers and Netanyahu’s spokesman said Tuesday they would be looking to bring in “deserters” from other parties to make up the shortfall.

Likud spokesman Yonatan Urich told Channel 13 of contacts with “four to six” MKs from “the other side” and predicted that Netanyahu would be able to form a majority coalition with the support of some of them “within a few days.”

MK Miki Zohar admitted that if Likud was left needing to bring more than two lawmakers from other parties, it would be far more difficult for Netanyahu to form a coalition; however, he said he remained confident of forming a government even in that scenario and preventing a fourth round of elections.

Blue and White MKs Zvi Hauser and Yoaz Hendel, both former aides to Netanyahu and members of the Telem faction within the party, have denied reports they were mulling joining Likud.

However Hendel told Channel 12 news that he thought the country needed a unity government to move forward. When asked if that included joining a prime minister on trial, he said no.

Blue and White MK Omer Yankelevich also denied she could jump ship after a report said Likud threatened to publish embarrassing recordings of her if she doesn’t defect.

MK Orly Levy-Abekasis, who heads the Gesher faction in the Labor-Gesher-Meretz alliance, has also been tipped as a possibility to switch sides in return for a cabinet portfolio.

The article was published on Times of Israel


Israelis head for elections, once again, with less feeling

So they vote. this time not happily, not with great enthusiasm, not eagerly, but they vote.
Armed with their signature cynicism and decidedly low expectations, the people of Israel flocked back to polls on Monday for the third time in 11 months.

They grumbled, they mumbled, and they complained. They voted before a family outing, and after shopping at the mall; after breakfast, and before dinner. Once again they shlepped in babies in carriages, and brought along small children on their way to an excursion.

They kvetched, but they voted. And they came out in numbers that put other countries – such as America, which hasn’t had more than 60% of the population vote in a presidential election since 1968 — to shame.

Why? Because the bottom line is that most people here do care – despite all the cynicism – who governs the land, even though they might loudly declare that they don’t really care, that all the politicians are the same, and that it doesn’t matter who forms the government.

And they voted because most people want their voice to be heard.

It’s a small country, Israel. Decisions made at the top are felt intimately by people below – for instance, whether to attack in the Gaza Strip and send ground troops there, whether to uproot an illegal outpost in Samaria, whether to extract gas from the ocean floor and process it near the Haifa coast. People want to have some kind of minimal impact on how those decisions will be made, as those decisions may impact them in a very personal and immediate way.

So they vote. This time not happily, not with great enthusiasm, not eagerly, but they vote.

Although much has been written about how these back-to-back-to-back elections are chipping away at the belief of Israelis in the system, the fact that well over 66% of the people continue to vote here election after election shows that – deep down – they still believe in the process. Otherwise they would not participate. People vote if they care. And most people in this country do care.

Which doesn’t mean that things didn’t feel a bit different this time in the country’s polling places. They did. The conversation and jokes among those waiting in lines were different than in the past.

First there were the jokes and conversations about the coronavirus. “The special places for people quarantined to vote won’t help, since all the voting slips are contaminated,” one man quipped at a polling place outside of Jerusalem. Another noted that the son of someone in quarantine was waiting in line, and said to take cover if he sneezes.

But most of the chatter had to do with the seemingly endless election loop.

“Here we go again,” one woman said to a neighbor standing in line. “Yes,” the neighbor replied, adding sardonically – in reference to the possibility of a fourth round of voting in a few months time – “See you back here in September.”

The article was published on the JPost