On Thursday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu invited the leader of the Blue and White party, Benny Gantz, to talks about forming an ‘’emergency’’ unity government amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Gantz suggested Friday that negotiating teams from Blue and White and Netanyahu’s Likud meet “as quickly as possible to immediately explore” the option.
The fast-moving global pandemic has reshuffled the entire deck of Israeli politics. Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin is scheduled to meet with the party heads on Sunday to hear recommendations to form a government while the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, is expected to be sworn in on Monday and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial scheduled to begin on Tuesday.
The Israeli government has been a political deadlock for a year after three elections have not produce a clear winner to form a governing coalition. The most recent election on March 2 left Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc three seats shy of a majority.
Over the past week, Blue and White leader Benny Gantz has been working to build a minority government backed by the Joint Arab List. However, at least three Knesset members on the center-left have balked at the prospect of forming a government tied to support from the Arab parties. No Arab party has ever been part of a governing coalition in Israel.
But on Thursday, Netanyahu invited the leader of the Blue and White party, Benny Gantz, to talks about forming an ‘’emergency’’ unity government amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The invitation came as Israel has begun the process of shutting down schools and universities as part of a measure to curb the spread of the virus. Israel has had 109 confirmed cases, though no deaths so far.
“We are in the midst of a global event unlike anything else in the history of the state’s existence,” the Israeli premier said in a television address.
In his speech Netanyahu drew direct parallels to the eve of the 1967 war, when Israel’s first national unity Government was formed, and said the crisis could last months and millions of people could die across the world.
Israeli President Rivlin was briefed on Netanyahu’s call for a unity government, and said his “my house is open to you.” “We must do everything to focus on the tasks we face,” said the president.
Netanyahu indicated that once the crisis passes, politics can resume “exactly from the point at which it has stopped now.”
Given the public’s anxiety, Gantz and Blue and White will find it increasingly difficult to refuse entry into some kind of national unity government with Netanyahu – as they have done consistently since last April’s election.
The two parties still need to negotiate the exact contours of such an “emergency government,” including which parties it will include, appointing ministers and sharing top posts between the parties.
Benny Gantz spoke with Netanyahu last night and issued a statement saying: “In light of the situation, we are willing to discuss forming a broad national emergency government that will include representatives of the entire public. We will spare no effort to promote this course of action for the sake of the citizens of Israel and the State of Israel.”
Israeli commentators interpreted the words ‘entire public’ to mean the Joint (Arab) List should be involved in the discussions, even though they are unlikely to agree to join the Government. Israeli media reported that Blue and White officials spoke to Arab politicians before the statement was issued and made clear this was its meaning.
Gantz suggested Friday that negotiating teams from Blue and White and Netanyahu’s Likud meet “as quickly as possible to immediately explore” the option. Gantz and Netanyahu are believed to have met overnight and will meet again today. In response to Gantz’s statement the Prime Minister’s office said no parties who support terrorism would be able to join the government.