The leaders of the Likud and Blue & White spoke by phone late Thursday, March 12, to discuss the possibility of setting up an emergency government, as they sought to put differences aside in order to effectively manage the coronavirus crisis sweeping the country and the globe, something that demands a functioning legislative body which Israel has been without for the past 15 months.
Far-right premier Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday used a prime-time televised address from the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem to call on the centrist Blue & and White to form a unity government and temporarily put the country’s political deadlock out of the way until the end of the currently intensifying public health crisis.
“It would be an emergency government for a limited time, and we will fight together to save the lives of tens of thousands of citizens,” Netanyahu said in a statement to the press, during which he warned of a potentially high death toll from the virus and announced that Israeli schools would be shut down starting Friday, March 13.
Both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue & White leader MK Benny Gantz expressed support for a unity coalition given the circumstances, but it was unclear if the two had come to an agreement regarding the inclusion of the Joint List in the emergency government. According to a report by Al-Ittihad, the Communist daily newspaper on Friday, Netanyahu told Gantz late Thursday that the two should begin talks on setting up a government immediately, saying that leadership was needed given the threat. However Netanyahu added that “terror supporters cannot be part of the government — not in regular times nor during an emergency,” using a McCarthyist term often employed by his racist party to tar the Joint List MKs electoral alliance.
Gantz earlier said he was willing to discuss an emergency government, but added that it would have to include elements from all political sides. “Blue & White, under my leadership, has thus far and will continue to back the common struggle against the coronavirus epidemic and its consequences,” Gantz wrote on Facebook. “In light of the situation, we will be willing to discuss the formation of a broad national unity government that would include representation of all parts of the house [Knesset]. We will make every effort to advance this step for the benefit of Israel’s citizens and the country.” The mention of “representation of all parts of the house” is widely interpreted as a hint that Gantz would insist on the inclusion in an emergency government of the Joint List.
Joint List leader, MK Ayman Odeh (Hadash) earlier on Thursday called out Netanyahu for continuing to “incite against 20 percent of the population during a global health crisis,” referring to the country’s Arab-Palestinian national minority. “There is not a single hospital staff with a Jewish majority. If we can save lives, we can also make decisions,” he added in a tweet.
Likud has attempted to portray the Joint List and his more than 580,000 Arab and Jewish supporters as beyond the pale of Israeli politics, calling its members “supporters of terror” and citing their opposition to Zionism.
Both Netanyahu and Gantz have repeatedly spoken of winning a “Jewish majority” in the election, a deeply controversial notion that in spirit delegitimizes the votes of Arab citizens of Israel. However senior lawmakers from Blue & White met with their counterparts from the Joint List on Wednesday to discuss the possibility of the latter’s recommending Gantz as prime minister during consultations with President Reuven Rivlin tomorrow (Sunday, March 15). Gantz, the head of Blue & White, needs the support of the Joint List to show he has enough backing to form a government. Before the Corona crisis, Gantz had adamantly refused to join a government headed by Netanyahu as long as he is under indictment.
Next Tuesday, March 17, Netanyahu’s trial will commence in the Jerusalem District Court. Meanwhile, Gantz will continue his efforts to establish a minority government with the support of the Joint List. However, such a possibility seems unlikely in the extreme: Opponents of the idea of a minority government headed by Gantz have risen from within his own party, and Gesher leader, Orly Levi-Abukasis, reshuffled the deck on Tuesday, March 10, when she announced that she opposes the formation of a minority government with the support of the Joint List. However, if Gantz should somehow successfully overcome all obstacles to form a minority government, all bets are off and Israel will be in desperate need of sentinels to avert the next political murder. (The assassination of Prime Minister Yitzah Rabin took place when he headed up such a minority government from 1992 to 1995 with support form Arab political parties. It was during this period that Israel signed the Oslo Accords with the Palestinian Liberation Organization.)
Last November Netanyahu became Israel’s first sitting prime minister to be placed in the docket by the justice system when Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit formally announced his intention to indict the PM in three separate cases that involved him for bribery, fraud and breach of trust. the indictments were only officially filed in January, when the Netanyahu dropped his bid for Knesset immunity. Netanyahu denies the charges and claims he is the victim of an attempted “political coup” involving the opposition, the Left, media, judges, the police, the media and state prosecutors.