Arab Israeli parties toss support to Gantz as PM
JERUSALEM — In a historic move, an alliance of Arab Israeli parties recommended a prime ministerial candidate to President Reuven Rivlin for the first time in almost three decades, saying in consultations Sunday that it would support a bid by former army chief of staff Benny Gantz to replace Benjamin Netanyahu.
The process of selecting Israel’s next prime minister has entered its second stage, with eyes on the country’s largely ceremonial president to see whether he can find a way out of a deadlocked election result and avert a third vote.
Traditionally, Arab parties refrain from recommending a candidate as an ideological protest at Israel’s ongoing military occupation of the Palestinians. The last time an Arab party recommended a candidate for prime minister was in 1992, when Yitzhak Rabin became prime minister. Two years later, he signed the historic Oslo accords with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
In his Sunday meeting with Rivlin, Joint List leader Ayman Odeh said, “We will recommend Benny Gantz as prime minister. We want to return to be legitimate political actors and bring an end to the Netanyahu government.”
Rivlin held consultations with representatives of four of the nine political blocs, including the Joint List of Arab parties, that make up Israel’s parliament, the Knesset. After meeting with the rest of the factions Monday, he will choose between Netanyahu and Gantz, giving one of them the first stab at forming the next government.
Also breaking with precedent was Avigdor Liberman, the hawkish former defense minister. In the past, he has been loyal to Netanyahu, but he said he could not support the longserving leader this time because of his close alignment with religious and rightwing parties. He also said he would not recommend Gantz because of the support from the Joint List.
Liberman said the only way forward was to form a unity government that included both Netanyahu’s Likud and Gantz’s Blue and White. It does not matter which of the two men is prime minister first, he said.
The results of Tuesday’s general election gave Blue and White about 40,000 more votes than Likud, but neither faction gained enough seats to form a majority in the 120-seat Knesset.
Neither, it appears, will be able to muster enough support from their ideological blocs to carve a stable coalition. Similar in size, with 33 and 31 seats, respectively, Blue and White and Likud could form a strong, centrist government.
Rivlin said Thursday that the parity between the two parties indicated “loud and clear” that the majority of Israel’s citizens wanted to see a “broad and stable national unity government.”
He said the stalemate, which began after a first round of elections — in April — left Netanyahu unable to secure a coalition. He called on all candidates to quickly “work toward forming a government that can serve the State of Israel and the people of Israel again.”
It is unclear how Rivlin will get the sides to cooperate.
It is not even clear how he will decide who will be given the first chance at forming the government. Tradition dictates that the opportunity be offered to the person most likely to succeed, but with that appearing near impossible for either leader, Rivlin might need to find alternative criteria.
“This situation has never happened before,” said Mordechai Kremnitzer, professor emeritus in law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a senior research fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute.
Benny Gantz and his wife, Revital, greet Blue and White backers after initial election results Wednesday in Tel Aviv.