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With ball in Gantz's court, he's shooting for support wherever he can find it

 

November 8, 2019

Hadas Parush/Flash90

Blue and White Party head Benny Gantz attends a faction meeting at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on Oct. 28, 2019.

(JNS)-Benny Gantz and the Blue and White Party are hard at work trying to find other parties to join his coalition to give him the 61 mandates needed to form a government. Much talk has centered on the possibility that he would form a minority government with the support of the Joint Arab List.

Yariv Levin, Likud Tourism Minister and chief negotiator in coalition talks, told JNS that "Blue and White has not ruled out the option of a minority government with the Arab parties."

On Sunday, Gantz and Netanyahu held their first meeting since the Blue and White leader was tasked with forming a coalition. While neither side reported any progress towards a unity government, the party leaders agreed to meet again.

"I finished a businesslike meeting with the prime minister," said Gantz. "I can inform you that I'll continue with all efforts to form a unity government and to prevent third elections for the State of Israel."

Nevertheless, there seems some mixed messaging within Blue and White regarding the possibility of a minority government.

On Sunday, Blue and White Knesset member Chili Tropper seemed to put an end to any speculation about this option, telling IDF Radio that "Blue and White will not establish a minority government with the support of the Joint Arab List."

But Blue and White MK Ofer Shelach told JNS that "the option of a minority government still exists. If we are faced with the horrific ramifications of a third election-a breakdown in democracy, no functioning government for a year and the loss of the public's trust in its leaders-all options are on the table."

A third Blue and White Knesset member, Meir Cohen, seemed to take the middle road, telling the Knesset Channel that a minority government with the support of the Arab party "is not on the table right now." This seems to support Shelach's message that if no other option exists, then Blue and White would explore this possibility.

Tropper clarified to JNS that he made a mistake in his statement earlier in the day. "What I said is not the official party policy. Blue and White believes in a unity government, and is doing whatever it can to establish one. But we do not discount other possibilities if we have no choice."

Knesset members explore different angles

It is critical to remember that this idea would also require buy-in from the Joint Arab List, which doesn't look like a given at this point. MK Mansour Abbas said that he does see this as a possibility and even an opportunity "to set a new status quo where everybody will view the Arab list as a legitimate party for negotiations.

But members of Knesset from Balad, the most radical and extreme faction in the Joint Arab List, have made it clear that their three mandates would not lend support to a Gantz-led government. Even if the other Arab MKs supported Gantz, that would leave him with just 54 seats; Netanyahu's 55-seat bloc would stop that government from forming.

There is one other factor that cannot be ignored when discussing the option of this minority government: Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu party and their eight seats. If they decide to vote against it, then there would be 63 seats against the Gantz-led government, and it would be defeated. Or they could decide to abstain and allow this government to form just to make sure Netanyahu is removed from office, which remains a clear goal of theirs. A third option would be for them to actually join the Gantz government.

This would give Gantz a 52-seat government with 62 votes in favor based on the support of 10 out of the 13 Arab MKs, even if Balad won't participate. While Lieberman has had strong words against the Joint Arab List in the past, he has not outright declared the option of a minority government with Arab support as off-limits.

Given the fact that there seems to be some controversy within the Blue and White Party about the option of a minority government with the support of the Joint Arab List, coupled with the fact that Arab MKs are not supportive of the idea, it's not surprising that Gantz explored a minority government from a different angle.

He also has toyed with the option of a minority government that would include Blue and White and Labor (39 all together), along with New Right's three mandates and 16 from the ultra-Orthodox parties. That would give him 58 mandates. If Lieberman, who refuses to join a coalition with the ultra-Orthodox, abstains, that would enable this government to pass. However, both New Right and the ultra-Orthodox have refused the idea outright.

As such, it appears that the only option left for a minority government would be one that would need the support of the Arab parties.

Levin told JNS that "a minority government with support of the Joint Arab List "would be extremely dangerous for the State of Israel" and needs to be avoided at all costs.

 

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