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Netanyahu allies refuse Gantz offer to meet for talks on forming government

Tasked by president, Gantz says he’s aiming for ‘patriotic government’ in days.

Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz vowed on Monday to cobble together a coalition “within days” after President Reuven Rivlin tasked the centrist alliance leader with forming a government in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I give you my word: I will do everything to establish within days — as few as I can — a national government, one that is as patriotic and as broad as possible,” Gantz said in an address from the President’s Residence in Jerusalem.

He specified that the government he would form would “protect the interests of the residents of Judea and Samaria [West Bank] and the Arab citizens of Israel, of the residents of the periphery and those in the center.”

Avoiding a handshake metaphor in the social-distancing days of the coronavirus, Gantz said, “I extend my elbows to all the elected factions in the Knesset, including Benjamin Netanyahu, and urge them to put aside the devastating verbal weapons and baseless hatred” in order to join him.

“I’ve always wanted [a] unity [government],” Gantz continued, “unity that comes not at the expense of Israeli democratic and state values.”

Gantz calls Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, and reiterates his commitment to forming a broad government.

He also invites Deri to meet.

“The minister responded that he is represented by [Netanyahu’s right-wing] bloc,” a Blue and White statement says.

Gantz phones Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, head of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party, to tell him he plans to form as broad a government as possible.

Gantz invites Litzman to meet and and offers to help as much as possible regarding the coronavirus, but the UTJ leader refuses to meet with him at this stage, a Blue and White statement says.

Gantz also phones Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, a member of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc, after being formally tasked by President Reuven Rivlin with forming the next government.

Like with Liberman and Gantz, Gantz tells Bennett he is committed to forming as broad a government as possible to deal with the current challenges Israel is facing, according to a statement from Blue and White.

“Gantz invited Bennett to meet and told him he is willing to assist him in his position as much as needed at this time,” the statement says.

Bennett, who heads the national-religious Yamina party, responds that he won’t meet with Gantz until the Blue and White chief renounces the support of the majority-Arab Joint List, a statement from the defense minister says.

The Yamina leader also calls on Gantz to immediately join a “national emergency government” led by Netanyahu to deal with the coronavirus outbreak, “after which the political system will return to the present situation.”

Bennett was appointed as defense minister by Netanyahu in November, a move members of the premier’s Likud party have acknowledged was aimed at keeping him from joining a Gantz-led coalition after the previous round of elections.

Header: President Reuven Rivlin (R) tasks Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz with forming a government in a ceremony at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on March 16, 2020. (Mark Neyman/GPO)