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Dismissing MK’s Comment, Blue And White Members Signal Coalition To Stay Intact

Original Article

Blue and White on Sunday night appeared to distance itself from a party member’s remark that a growing group within the party of Defense Minister Benny Gantz favours ending its partnership with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud, a move that would topple the current unity government.

Several Hebrew-language news outlets quoted unnamed Blue and White sources as saying MK Miki Haimovich’s comment only reflected her own opinion. They also noted that no alternative coalition could realistically be formed if the government were to fall, which would again see Israel go to national elections.

“This is the time to put aside anything else, important as it may be, and focus on what is the most important right now for the citizens of Israel — saving lives and rehabilitating the economy,” Diaspora Minister Omer Yankelevich wrote on Twitter.

“An election right now won’t solve any problems; it will only intensify all the problems,” she wrote on Twitter.

Blue and White MK Miki Haimovich at the Knesset on May 27, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

According to Kan, several unspecified lawmakers were expected to suggest during a faction meeting the party was holding Sunday evening that Blue and White break coalition discipline and vote independently of Likud, but continue to remain in the government.

“Likud doesn’t consider our views. Blue and White doesn’t need to allow Netanyahu to control its fate,” a party source told the Kan public broadcaster.

The broadcaster also said Blue and White believes that there are no grounds to extend the new emergency measures restricting protests during the current coronavirus lockdown, whose passage last week was opposed by several of the party’s MKs and cited by Tourism Minister Asaf Zamir in his decision to resign.

Netanyahu is expected to push for a continuation of the emergency measures, which expire Tuesday, when the cabinet convenes on Monday.

The restrictions on mass demonstrations, which bar Israelis from protesting more than one kilometre from their homes and require them to maintain socially distanced “pods,” effectively squelched the weekly rallies against Netanyahu outside his official residence in Jerusalem, though smaller protests were held nationwide on Saturday.

The demonstrations are primarily focused on Netanyahu’s indictment on graft charges, with protesters calling for his resignation, though some have also rallied against the premier over his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Following social-distancing regulations, protesters rally against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, outside his official residence in Jerusalem, on September 24, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

During the three consecutive rounds of elections that began in April 2019, Blue and White campaigned on replacing Netanyahu, who faces charges of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust. The prime minister denies wrongdoing and claimed the indictments are an effort by political rivals, the media, law enforcement and prosecutors to remove him from office.

After the most recent elections in March, Blue and White dropped its opposition to sitting in a government led by Netanyahu, citing the health and economic crises generated by the pandemic.

Since the new government was formed, however, it has been riven by squabbling between Likud and Blue and White, and the dissolution of the Knesset was only narrowly avoided in August when legislation delaying the passage of the state budget until late December was passed at the last minute.

If the Knesset fails to pass a budget by the new date, the country would enter new elections without Netanyahu having to hand over the premiership to Gantz, as part of their power-sharing agreement.

Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, the No. 2 in Blue and White, said Saturday that he was not sure whether Gantz would become prime minister in November 2021, per the coalition deal with the Likud.

He said that if Blue and White feels it can no longer influence government policy, “that is a red line.”

“If Netanyahu wants elections, that isn’t a threat to us. It’s a threat to the public,” he said.

Ashkenazi was also asked about Blue and White MK Asaf Zamir’s decision to resign as tourism minister on Friday.

“I understand the difficulties, and respect the decision, but don’t agree with it. If you want to influence, you can only do that from within the government. Resigning is leaving the political arena to Netanyahu,” he said.

In a Facebook post explaining his decision to resign, Zamir cited the controversial new law to restrict protests, and accused Netanyahu of putting his legal woes before the fight against COVID-19.

Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz (R) with party member Asaf Zamir at a faction event in Ramat Gan on March 27, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Shortly after Zamir’s announcement, Gantz said that the Blue and White party would move immediately to make a permanent appointment to the post of state attorney, which has not been properly filled since December of last year, appearing to set himself on a new collision path with Likud and Netanyahu.

Channel 12 news reported that the move was part of a deliberate change of attitude by Blue and White, reflecting a determination to take a more confrontational approach against Netanyahu, in light of the realisation that its attempts at compromise thus far have not served it well.

Likud in response accused Blue and White of playing political games and breaking coalition agreements, “in a desperate attempt to cobble up some left-wing votes and to prevent their collapse in the polls.”

Netanyahu is seen as unlikely to agree to (Blue and White) Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn’s pick for the state attorney post. In their coalition agreement, the parties agreed to put off any senior nominations which they are likely to clash over. Blue and White cannot appoint a new state attorney without Likud’s agreement, but a hard push to do so by Gantz’s party would further destabilise the already shaky foundations of the dysfunctional unity government.