Is Israel’s Blue and White Party Finished?

Israel’s Blue and White party was formed in the run up to the April 2019 Knesset elections with the aim of defeating Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Its formation was necessitated by the need to present a united front in the election by bringing together the centrist parties, primarily Benny Gantz’s Resilience Party, Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid and Moshe Ya’lon’s Telem.

Blue and White’s Core Mission

At its inauguration the alliance described itself as a pluralistic party alliance representing all citizens on the political and religious spectrum of Israeli society. Its name Blue and White is derived from Israel’s national colors, and is colloquially used to portray patriotism.

A manifesto released after Blue and White’s inauguration promised to address “all the essential issues facing the State of Israel and the citizens of Israel … embodying the right of Israeli citizens to live in dignity, security, prosperity and freedom.”

Prior to and after the March 2020 elections Blue and White’s leaders vowed not to serve in the same government as Netanyahu because of the criminal charges facing him. When Netanyahu was indicted Gantz declared, “Netanyahu goes to trial, and we must move forward. Israel’s citizens have a clear choice: a prime minister who will work for them or a prime minister who is preoccupied with himself.”

“No one can run a state and at the same time manage three serious criminal cases for bribery fraud and breach of trust,” Gantz added.

The Pressure to Compromise in the Midst of Electoral Chaos

However, with Israel’s recent third election also ending up in a stalemate, there has been pressure for the leaders to compromise in order to save Israel from another election. Ever since the impasse began in April last year the Israeli government has been unable to carry out key factions as the national parliament — the Knesset — remained dysfunctional.

The emergence of the coronavirus pandemic also compounded the need for a substantive government to tackle the situation. Since Gantz had the support of most political parties, he was entrusted with trying to form a government by president Reuven Rivlin.

However,  any attempts by Gantz to form a minority government were bound to fail for most of parties supporting him resented the participation of the Arab Joint List in any unity government. Gantz himself knew that trying to form a minority government with the support of the Joint List was likely to attract anger among conservatives.

This coupled with the coronavirus emergency, necessitated the need of a unity government that would also involve Netanyahu and his Likud party. But this is was going to be a tough balancing act for the former leader of Israel Defense Forces. He had always promised his supporters not to work with Netanyahu but now the prevailing situation was forcing him to reconsider his stand. To most of his political supporters he would appear as a traitor and a man with no principles

Gantz Denies First Reports of Collaboration to Buy Time

Last week when Netanyahu leaked details about a deal that had been agreed between the Likud and Blue and White, Gantz chose to dismiss it by blaming Netanyahu for dangerous leaks and using threats. It appears that some of his supporters were not aware that the negotiations were at an advanced stage and that Gantz’s denial was only a face-saving tactic.

Most Blue and White members had been strategizing on how to block Netanyahu from participating in a unity government through legislation in the Knesset. To this effect a bill had been brought to parliament to bar anybody facing criminal charges from forming a government. In order to achieve they compelled the pro-Netanyahu Speaker to call for the election for his replacement.

With 61 Knesset members, the pro-Gantz bloc was assured of taking the Speaker’s position and also passing the bill into law. These efforts were being led by Gantz’s running mate in the Blue and White Yair Lapid of the Yesh Taid.

Gantz’s Surprise Move to Become Speaker

But in a surprising twist Gantz submitted his candidature for the position of the speaker, a move that shocked his partners in the Blue and White. Apparently according to sources this was part of the secret agreement between Netanyahu and Gantz as part of the discussion which he had previously denied were taking place.

The initial agreement within the Blue and White was that the speaker should come from the Yesh Atid wing of the alliance. However when the name of Meir Cohen was submitted during negotiations, the Likud rejected it on the grounds that the party was opposed to any government led by Netanyahu.

It was under these circumstances that Gantz found himself as speaker supported by the Likud and his Resilience Party. As speaker he is expected to use his position to continue with negotiations to push legislations that would protect Netanyahu. According to Haaretz he is already in the process of instigating legislation that would allow Netanyahu to serve in government as minister despite his trial.

Indicted Prime Ministers are Barred From Serving

While prime ministers are allowed to continue serving until found guilty, they cannot serve when indicted. Under the new deal that is yet to be finalized, Netanyahu would serve as prime minister while Gantz would serve in the cabinet possibly as deputy prime and Minister of Defense.

After 18 months they would be expected to rotate, with Gantz becoming prime minister and Netanyahu serving as deputy PM and Defense Minister. This is where the challenge lies for Netanyahu who is facing criminal charges and would therefore be barred from serving as deputy prime minister.

It is for this reason that plans to sidestep High Court rulings that bar indicted ministers from serving by redefining the positions of deputy prime minister are at the center of the negotiations. According to Haaretz, Netanyahu and Gantz will promote the legislation in the coming days.

End Result: Bye Bye Blue and White

The result of all these moves is that the Blue and White has now disintegrated. The Yesh Atid and Telem have split away from Gantz’s Isreal Resillience, although Gantz will still technically retain the name Blue and White.

“We formed Blue and White to offer an alternative to the Isreali people. Benny Gntz decided today to break apart Blue and White and crawl into Netanyahu’s government. It’s a disappointing decision,” said Yair Lapid. “What is 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,” Lapid added.

Moshe Ya’lon the leader of Telem accused Gantz of committing political suicide.

The new government that is expected to be formed by Gantz and Netanyahu is modeled on the unity government between Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Shamir between 1984 and 1988 when the two leaders rotated as prime ministers.