Netanyahu urges coalition with Gantz and the right, which vows to back him as PM
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                  Netanyahu urges coalition with Gantz and the right, which vows to back him as PM

                  Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyhu (R) and Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz shaking hands during a memorial for former president Shimon Peres in Jerusalem, September 19, 2019. (GPO)

                  Netanyahu urges coalition with Gantz and the right, which vows to back him as PM

                  19.09.2019, Israel

                  The leaders of all the parties in the right-wing religious bloc on Thursday signed a document pledging to recommend Benjamin Netanyahu as the next prime minister and vowing to enter a coalition only as a single unit, as the premier called on Blue and White chief Benny Gantz to join a “unity government” that includes those parties.

                  Blue and White rejected the offer as “spin.”

                  The document was signed during a meeting of right-wing party heads Thursday morning. It came on the heels of a press conference Wednesday in which Netanyahu announced the 55-strong united front designed to pressure Gantz into dropping his demand for a “secular” unity government with Likud, minus the ultra-Orthodox and religious parties.

                  While not enough to form a coalition on its own, Netanyahu is hoping that President Reuven Rivlin will treat his 55-seat bloc as a single party and therefore agree to task Netanyahu with forming the next government.

                  The document was signed by Netanyahu; United Torah Judaism leader Yaakov Litzman; and Yamina MKs Ayelet Shaked, Naftali Bennett, Rafi Peretz and Bezalel Smotrich. Shas leader Aryeh Deri, while not present at the meeting, gave his consent via phone call and would be signing soon, a spokesman for Likud said.

                  In the document, they promised that their parties “will conduct coalition negotiations jointly and will enter any government only together. No party will hold any separate negotiations and won’t enter any government without all the rest of the parties.”

                  Additionally, the document says: “Our candidate for prime minister is Benjamin Netanyahu.”

                  The document was signed by Shaked and Smotrich despite both having expressed reservations about the idea earlier in the day.

                  The united front was first announced on Wednesday, when Likud said the party chiefs had decided to set up a joint negotiation team for coalition talks and act as a “single right-wing bloc” moving forward. The all-or-nothing alliance would aim to prevent a different unity coalition, composed of Likud, Blue and White, and Yisrael Beytenu, which Liberman is pushing and that Gantz would seek to head. Liberman has also insisted that such a coalition pursue liberal policies that would preclude the inclusion of the ultra-Orthodox parties.

                  Immediately after Thursday’s meeting with right-wing party leaders, Netanyahu called on Gantz to agree to a broad unity government that would rest upon on the bloc the prime minister has positioned himself to lead.

                  Netanyahu urged Gantz to meet with him for a one-on-one meeting Thursday at “any time, any hour” to form the coalition by the end of the day.

                  With almost all votes counted, the Orthodox/right-wing bloc led by Netanyahu has 55 seats, the centrist/left bloc led by Gantz has 44, and Yisrael Beytenu’s Avigdor Liberman holds the balance of power with eight. The predominantly Arab Joint List, which has not said whether it will actively back Gantz, has 13 seats.

                  “During the elections I called for establishing a right-wing government,” Netanyahu said in a statement Thursday morning. “But, to my regret, the results of the election show that is impossible. The people didn’t choose definitively between the two blocs; therefore there is no choice but to establish a broad unity government, as broad as possible, that comprises those elements who hold the State of Israel dear.”

                  “Yesterday I met with members of the right-wing parties and we agreed that we are presenting a single bloc with a single joint representation for negotiations. I now call on you, MK Benny Gantz: We must establish a broad unity government today,” he said. “Let’s meet today, at any time, any hour, in order to initiate this process that is the order of the hour. We must not, and there is no reason to, go to third elections — I am against it.”

                  Blue and White dismissed the offer, with senior sources within the party telling Hebrew-language media that it was political spin by Netanyahu: “He has decided to go to third elections and is trying to foist the blame onto us. If he stepped aside, there would be a unity government within a day.

                  “Blue and and White is the biggest party, and Benny Gantz should form a unity government and head it,” the sources added.

                  Blue and White has repeatedly ruled out sitting in a government under Netanyahu, who is expected to face a criminal indictment in the coming months, pending a hearing. His political opponents warn that should be be named prime minister again, he would use the position to secure himself immunity from prosecution.

                  Netanyahu and Gantz met Thursday at a memorial event marking three years since the death of former president Shimon Peres. At President Rivlin’s urging, the two posed together for photos and shook hands.

                  At the event, Rivlin, who is now tasked with deciding who will get the first shot at forming a government, said he would do everything in his power to prevent another round of elections.

                  “The responsibility for that lies with the publicly elected officials, and specifically on those who head the two biggest parties,” he added.

                  Rivlin welcomed Netanyahu’s call for a unity government and said: “When faction representatives come to me, they will have to explain what they intend to do so that we get to see the formation of a government in Israel as soon as possible.”

                  By TOI STAFF

                  The Times of Israel