Gantz to be defense minister under Netanyahu, Gabi Ashkenazi to serve as foreign minister

Amir Peretz gives newly-elected Knesset Speaker Benny Gantz the gavel on March 26, 2020 (photo credit: KNESSET SPOKESWOMAN - ADINA WALLMAN)
Amir Peretz gives newly-elected Knesset Speaker Benny Gantz the gavel on March 26, 2020 (photo credit: KNESSET SPOKESWOMAN – ADINA WALLMAN)


In a dramatic turn of events, the Blue and White Party, which served as the alternative to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the March 2 election, broke up on Thursday after party head Benny Gantz decided to enter Netanyahu’s government.

The three parties that made up Blue and White – Gantz’s Israel Resilience, Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid and Moshe Ya’alon’s Telem – all went in different directions. Israel Resilience is joining the government, Lapid will head the opposition and Telem will split up, with Ya’alon on the outside and divided.

Yesh Atid and Telem formally asked the Knesset to split off from Israel Resilience and keep the name Blue and White for the two parties together. Yesh Atid MKs wished their former colleagues good luck as they left the party’s WhatsApp group.

Gantz reached out to Lapid in a speech after getting elected Knesset speaker, in an effort to prevent the split.

“It has been my intention, and it is still my intention, to do everything possible to keep us together, and I urge all of my potential political partners to act in the same spirit,” he said. “This is not the time for in-fighting and mud-slinging. This is not the time for controversy and divisions. This is the time for responsible, committed, patriotic leadership.”

But Lapid and Ya’alon responded by fiercely attacking him in speeches in Tel Aviv.

“We formed Blue and White to offer an alternative to the Israeli people,” Lapid said. “The election results proved that Israel needed that alternative like we need air to breathe. We wanted to bring about change, to bring about hope, to start a new path. Benny Gantz decided today to break apart Blue and White and crawl into Netanyahu’s government. It’s a disappointing decision. What’s being formed today isn’t a unity government or an emergency government. It’s another Netanyahu government. Benny Gantz surrendered without a fight and crawled into Netanyahu’s government.”

Ya’alon accused Gantz of committing political suicide.

There will be a rotation in the Prime Minister’s Office between Netanyahu and Gantz. Netanyahu’s allies will start off as finance minister and Knesset speaker, with outgoing speaker Yuli Edelstein expected to return to the role. Gantz will reportedly serve as defense minister, MK Gabi Ashkenazi as foreign minister, and many other MKs from Israel Resilience will also be ministers. The sensitive Justice portfolio will also go to the party despite prior denials. Yamina Chairman Naftali Bennett is also a candidate to continue serving as defense minister or alternatively as finance minister.

The split happened after Gantz decided that he would be the candidate for interim speaker of the Knesset to facilitate progress in coalition talks with Likud. Appointing Gantz as speaker gave time for the talks to proceed.

The Likud objected to Blue and White MK Meir Cohen becoming Knesset speaker, because he is from Yesh Atid, which Likud knew would stay out of a national-unity government initially led by Netanyahu. Lapid had an agreement with Gantz that the speaker must come from his party. A meeting of the cockpit of leaders in Blue and White ended in what has been described as the worst-ever fight among the leaders.

Likud faction chairman Miki Zohar had warned that if Cohen were to become Knesset speaker, coalition talks would end immediately. Likud officials noted that in the plan Netanyahu presented on Saturday night, the Knesset speaker could come from the party of the prime minister and then shift to the other party when there is a rotation.

The idea of Gantz himself temporarily serving as Knesset speaker was immediately rejected by Yesh Atid, Yisrael Beytenu, Meretz and the Joint List. But Likud and its satellite parties voted for him in a 74-18 vote according to new party lines.

In the plenum, Labor MK Merav Michaeli asked Gantz and Ashkenazi why they “put the entire country through this entire mess when they could have been ministers for Netanyahu all along.” She said they should have learned from what happened to politicians who relied on Netanyahu’s promises in the past, like Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and Yaalon.

“You wanted to be Yitzhak Rabin, but you ended up like another former IDF chief of staff, Shaul Mofaz, a nice man but a caricature of a politician who gave into Netanyahu and whose career ended shortly afterward,” she said.

As reported by The Jerusalem Post