Arab Is­raeli par­ties toss sup­port to Gantz as PM

The Morning Call - - NATION & WORLD - By Ruth Eglash

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.

EM­MANUEL DUNAND/GETTY-AFP

Benny Gantz and his wife, Re­vi­tal, greet Blue and White back­ers af­ter ini­tial elec­tion re­sults Wed­nes­day in Tel Aviv.

Rivlin

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