Former IDF Chief of Staff and Blue and White Chairman Benny Gantz’s mandate to form a government expired at midnight last night, forcing Israel into uncharted waters that may lead the country into a third round of nation-wide Parliamentary elections.
In a televised statement, Benny Gantz blamed his rival incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of bearing responsibility for his failure, by putting his own personal interests over those of the state of Israel and its citizens. He said “Over the past 28 days I have left no stone unturned, and I have cleared away each grain of sand, in a bid to form a government that would bring Israel a leadership of honor, a leadership of morality, of values. A leadership that has been forgotten. In the face of efforts to attain unity and reconciliation, a bloc [reference to Netanyahu’s right-wing ultraorthodox bloc] has been placed, that finds it hard to see, that insists on seeing only the personal interest of one person, before that of the patients lying in [hospital] corridors … No one has the right to deny the people its choice, and no prime minister and party leader has the right to tell the people: ‘My personal interest takes precedence over your personal interest.’”
As of this morning, the Israeli parliament, or Knesset in Hebrew, will have 21 days in which it can assign the task of forming the next government to any lawmaker, provided an absolute majority of at least 61 Members of Knesset agree to endorse a specific candidate. If it fails to endorse any candidate, however, the Knesset will be dissolved, and the country will be reluctantly forced to hold a third round of elections.
In response to Gantz’s allegations against Netanyahu and the unpopular political stalemate that persists, the Likud Chairman called on the former Military Chief to set their differences aside and work on saving the country from a dangerous elections limbo. Netanyahu insisted that in contrast to Gantz’s claims, on the one hand the latter sought out the ultra-orthodox and right-wing parties to form a coalition, and on the other hand, he clearly indicated his preparedness to set up a minority government with the United (Arab) List, which Netanyahu referred to as “terror-supporters who receive their instructions from the enemies of Israel.” In his words “Benny Gantz, I would respond to all of the preposterous things you said about me this evening, nor to your failure to form a national unity government. It was not because you insisted on breaking up the bloc. After all, you yourselves turned to the ‘haredi’ (Ultra-Orthodox religious) parties and tried to entice them with everything so they might join you in power. And aside from that, you were prepared to set up a minority government with terror-supporters who receive their instructions from the enemies of Israel. So, let’s not spin stories. But one thing you said that was right. Israel needs a unity government. After all, everything sees what we are facing today. We are in a campaign against with Iran on various fronts. And therefore, for the sake of Israel’s security, for the sake of the will of the people, for the sake of reconciliation among the people, we indeed need to form a unity government. We have historic opportunities and we also have weighty challenges. And we must not lose even a moment. And therefore, I am responding to you thus: I am prepared, without preconditions, to enter an immediate dialogue with you this very evening, in order to form a unity government. If we go together, we will succeed.”
While Netanyahu and Gantz have repeatedly blamed each other for the political stalemate, the so-called Israeli Kingmaker – former Defense Minister and Yisrael Beitenu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman – insisted that “both (Netanyahu and Gantz) were guilty” in failing to agree on a much-desired unity government, which he has strongly advocated for. According to Lieberman “If we roll towards election, it’s because of lack of leadership. One was not ready to accept the president’s plan (for unity) and the other was not willing to separate from his Ultra-Orthodox messianic bloc.”
In the streets of Tel Aviv, most Israelis were quick express their perception of ‘who is responsible for the dire political situation in Jerusalem’ – based of course on their own political stance. Nevertheless, a commonality between the majority of Israelis asked is the unequivocal feeling of disappointment. Israeli resident of Tel Aviv Kfir Alfandary voice the opinion that “It’s kind of sad, I’m just disappointed and I .. that’s it. From one side I’m disappointed, from the other side I’m happy because this means that we are… this is a real democracy.” Similarly, Jonathan Levi, who is also an Israeli resident of Tel Aviv said “I am very disappointed that for a whole year we don’t have a government. It’s disappointing. I don’t know what will be. I can’t see that another election will lead to results that are very different. It’s a little bit of a mess but we’ll see. This is a democracy, eventually things have a nature of resolving themselves. So, if there will have to be another election there will be another election. That’s it.”