Benny Gantz seeks unity with Netanyahu, as party disintegrates

Last Modified Monday, 30 March 2020 (12:26 IST)
Two key allies in Benny Gantz's coalition have accused him of surrendering to Netanyahu ''without a fight.'' But the former army chief defended his decision to join the Israeli prime minister in a unity government.
Two leaders of Benny Gantz's centrist Blue and White party abandoned it on Sunday, in rejection of Gantz's decision to join an emergency unity government with rival Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Israel's 120-seat parliament, the Knesset, formally approved the break-away of former journalist Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid and former Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon's Telem parties from Gantz's coalition. 
The move comes in the wake of Israel's third election in a 12-month period and as the country tackles the coronavirus pandemic. 
This month's elections, as well as two earlier ones in September and April of 2019, produced no majority for Netanyahu's right-wing bloc nor Gantz's centrist bloc. But it was Gantz who had been tapped by President Reuven Rivlin, after his block managed to hold a slim majority support in the Knesset. 
At first, Gantz vowed to not serve under Netanyahu, a prime minister charged with corruption. But he changed his position last week, arguing that could not afford a fourth election and needed a unity government to face the coronavirus crisis. 
Staunch opposition to Netanyahu 
Blue and White was created over a year ago, ahead of the April 2019 elections and its aim was offering a viable alternative to Netanyahu. It was then that Gantz's Resilience party joined with Lapid's Yesh Atid and Ya'alon's Telem for the purpose of defeating the prime minister. 
On Sunday, Telem and Yesh Atid parties accused Gantz of surrendering "without a fight" to Netanyahu. 
In a joint statement, the two parites said they would fight from the opposition to protect Israel's threatened democracy and keep a "watchful eye" over government's response to the coronavirus and any related economic crises it could bring.   
"We will fight against the slippery slope that leads us to a corrupt government which tramples our democracy," the statement said. 
Gantz doubled down on his decision, saying it is "what my nation needs" during the coronavirus pandemic. 
"I won't be the one who categorically refuses to step in and pull my weight in a state of emergency," he wrote on Facebook. 
Negotiations underway 
Netanyahu and Gantz held initiated talks to iron out the details of a potential unity government. In a joint statement from Gantz's Blue and White and Netanyahu's Likud party, they said that "significant progress was made during the meeting," that took place yesterday and dragged lon into the night. 
"During the course of the day, an additional meeting will be held in order to come to a finalized agreement." 
Although no official details have been provided of the likely makeup of a future government, Netanyahu has proposed an 18-month premiership terms that he would first lead and then hand over to Gantz. 
One important appointment would be that of justice minister, as this person would oversee the legal proceedings currently underway against Netanyahu. 
The long-awaited trial against the Israeli prime minister has already been postponed from March to May, due to the coronavirus pandemic. 
Netanyahu faces charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. He has denied the charges.
jcg/ng (AFP, dpa)