The Arab Joint List recommended Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz for prime minister to President Reuven Rivlin on Sunday -the first candidate an Arab party has endorsed since Yitzchak Rabin in 1992. The Joint List’s 13 votes for Gantz plus the votes of Blue and White, Labor -Gesher and the Democratic Union will give Gantz 57 votes versus Netanyahu’s expected votes of 55, which should compel Rivlin to grant the mandate to form a coalition to Gantz. Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu did not recommend either candidate for prime minister.
However, Israeli media reports on Sunday said that Blue and White has decided that they don’t want to be the first one to attempt forming a coalition and will try to deduct three of the votes from the Joint List – those of the extremist Balad party.
Blue and White’s rationale is that the second candidate to try to form a coalition has a higher chance of success due to the public’s pressure to avoid third elections. Furthermore, Blue and White is hoping that the more time passes, the more progress will be made on Netanyahu’s indictments.
Blue and White decided to try to convince Rivlin to appoint Netanyahu first to form a coalition by claiming that Balad, which harshly criticized the decision to recommend Gantz, should not be included in the votes for Gantz. That would leave Blue and White with 54 recommendations versus Likud’s 55. However, Joint List leaders Ayman Odeh and Ahmed Tibi told Rivlin at the meeting that “despite differences of opinion within the Joint List, the party’s decision is binding on everyone” and recommended Gantz in the name of all 13 Joint List MKs.
By Monday morning the Joint List retracted its statements when it sent a letter to Rivlin, stating that the recommendation for Benny Gantz does not include Balad and is in the name of 10 Joint List MKs only.
Later on Monday morning, the President’s Residence released a statement that the president will research whether there’s a legal basis to the Joint List’s update that the recommendation does not include the three Balad MKs or whether the count can be calculated according to the president’s judgment.
The Arab nationalist Balad party was founded by Azmi Bishara, who fled to Qatar after spying for Hezbollah against Israel during the 2006 Lebanon War. Another ex-Balad member is Hanin Zoabi who has called for the dissolution of the state of Israel, was on the Mavi Marmara ship when passengers attacked IDF commandos, and expressed support for Hamas during Operation Protective Edge. Basel Ghattas, another ex-Balad MK, was sentenced to prison last year for smuggling contraband to terrorists in Israeli prisons.
Balad stated on Sunday that it will not recommend “General Benny Gantz” due to his Zionism, his right-wing views that are not really different than those of Likud, and his bloody and aggressive military background.” Gantz, a former IDF Chief of Staff, has a long military record in the IDF and fought or commanded in many Israeli operations and wars.
(YWN Israel Desk – Jerusalem)