Israeli president tasks Benny Gantz with forming government

Israel’s former military chief Benny Gantz has received an official mandate to form the country’s next government but has few options after last month’s elections left him in a near tie with Netanyahu. (File/AFP)
Updated 25 October 2019

Israeli president tasks Benny Gantz with forming government

  • Gantz is the first politician other than Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to receive such a mandate since 2009
  • Following deadlocked elections on September 17, Netanyahu had tried to form a coalition, but finally gave up on Monday — his second such failure this year

JERUSALEM: Israel’s president Reuven Rivlin tasked ex-military chief Benny Gantz on Wednesday with forming a new governing coalition and bringing Israel out of the longest political impasse in its history.
Gantz is the first politician other than Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to receive such a mandate since 2009.
Following deadlocked elections on September 17, Netanyahu had tried to form a coalition, but finally gave up on Monday — his second such failure this year.
At a press conference in Jerusalem, Rivlin called on political parties to make “concessions,” while Gantz promised to “try to form a liberal union government.”
He is expected to face difficulties in forming a majority coalition, despite expressing confidence he can reach a deal for a unity government.
He will have 28 days to try and if he too fails, Rivlin can ask parliament to agree on another candidate for prime minister.
If that also fails to produce a new government, Israel could face yet another election — its third in the space of a year.
“We must behave responsibly toward Israeli citizens and avoid new elections,” Gantz said Wednesday, adding that there would be room for “all elements of Israeli society” in his coalition.
Gantz presents himself as a leader who can heal Israel’s divisions, which he says Netanyahu has exacerbated.
A 60-year-old former paratrooper, Gantz had no previous political experience when he declared himself Netanyahu’s electoral rival in December.
He was born on June 9, 1959, in Kfar Ahim, a southern Israeli village that his immigrant parents, both Holocaust survivors, helped to establish.
He joined the army in 1977, completing the tough selection course for paratroopers.
According to his official army biography, he was Israel’s military attache to the United States from 2005 until 2009.
He was chief of staff from 2011 to 2015, when he retired, and has boasted in video clips of the number of Palestinian militants killed and targets destroyed under his command in the 2014 war with Gaza’s Islamist Hamas rulers.
A security hawk, he is determined — like Netanyahu — to keep the Jordan Valley in the occupied West Bank under Israeli control and to maintain Israeli sovereignty over annexed Arab east Jerusalem.
The two are also in step on external threats, such as from archfoe Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah.
Gantz has pledged to improve public services and show “zero tolerance” for corruption — a reference to graft allegations facing Netanyahu.
Negotiators from Gantz’s Blue and White party and Netanyahu’s Likud party will meet Thursday, according to Likud.
Both the Likud and Blue and White say they want a big-tent coalition, but they are divided on how to achieve it.
The Likud has been seeking to negotiate based on a compromise set out by Rivlin that takes into account the possibility the premier will be indicted on corruption charges in the coming weeks.
It could see Netanyahu remain prime minister for now, but step aside at some point later as he fights the charges.
Gantz would take over as acting premier under such a scenario.
Blue and White says Gantz should be prime minister first under any rotation arrangement, since his party won the most seats, finishing with 33 compared to the Likud’s 32 in the 120-seat parliament.
Rivlin promised Wednesday night that he would do everything possible to avoid a third election.


Hariri and Aoun trade blame as prime minister candidate's withdrawal plunges Lebanon further into crisis

Updated 4 min 6 sec ago

Hariri and Aoun trade blame as prime minister candidate's withdrawal plunges Lebanon further into crisis

  • Withdrawal of Mohammad Safadi narrowed the chances of creating a government needed to enact urgent reforms
  • Lebanon's bank staff said they would continue a nationwide strike on Monday

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s outgoing prime minister blasted the party of the country’s president on Sunday after the withdrawal of a top candidate to replace him plunged the country into further turmoil.

Mohammad Safadi, a former finance minister, withdrew his candidacy late on Saturday, saying it was too difficult to form a "harmonious" government with broad political support.

Safadi was the first candidate who had appeared to win some consensus among Lebanon's fractious sectarian-based parties since Saad Hariri quit as prime minister on Oct. 29, pushed out by sweeping protests against the ruling elite.

The withdrawal of Safadi narrowed the chances of creating a government needed to enact urgent reforms.

Reflecting the brittle political climate, President Michel Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) accused Hariri of undermining Safadi's bid in order to keep the job for himself.

"Saad (al-Hariri) is delaying things with the goal of burning all the names and emerging as the saviour," said a source familiar with the FPM's view.

A statement by Hariri's office rejected the FPM assertion as an irresponsible attempt to "score points" despite Lebanon's "major national crisis".

Faced by the worst financial strains since a 1975-1990 civil war, Lebanon has pledged urgent reforms it hopes will convince donors to disburse some $11 billion pledged last year.

The unrest has kept banks shut for most of the last month. They have imposed controls on transfers abroad and US dollar withdrawals, and the pegged Lebanese pound is under pressure on an informal market.

Safadi became the presumed front-runner for prime minister after a meeting between Hariri, a Sunni politician, and Shiite groups Hezbollah and Amal, according to political sources and Lebanese media, but no political force later endorsed him.

Lebanon's prime minister must be a Sunni Muslim, according to its sectarian power-sharing system.

Protesters who have filled the streets since Oct. 17 hit out at the choice of Safadi, a prominent businessman and longtime politician they said was part of the elite they sought to oust.

"We are in a deadlock now. I don't know when it will move again. It is not easy," said a senior political source. "The financial situation doesn't tolerate any delay."

A second political source described efforts to form a new government as "back to square one."

Safadi's withdrawal leaves the powerful, Iran-backed Hezbollah and its allies with even fewer options unless they push for a close Sunni ally, a scenario that would likely reduce the chances of Lebanon winning international support. Hezbollah is classified as a terrorist group by the United States and many other countries.

Hezbollah and Amal, along with Aoun, a Maronite Christian, have sought for Hariri to return as premier while including both technocrats and politicians in a new cabinet.

But Hariri, who is aligned with Gulf Arab states and the West, has said he will only return as prime minister if he is able to form a cabinet composed entirely of specialists capable of attracting the international support.

Global ratings agency S&P flashed the latest warning on Lebanon's debt-saddled economy on Friday, lowering its foreign and local currency sovereign credit ratings deeper into junk territory to 'CCC/C' from 'B-/B'.

Lebanon's bank staff said they would continue a nationwide strike on Monday that has kept banks shut. The strike is over safety fears as depositors demand access to their money. Union members are set to meet on Monday to discuss a security plan to keep branches safe.