New Israel elections loom as Gantz says can't form govt

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during an extended faction meeting of the right-wing bloc members at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019. (AP)
Updated 20 November 2019

New Israel elections loom as Gantz says can't form govt

  • If Israel is forced into a third election, it would be entering uncharted waters, with opinion polls already predicting a very similar deadlock

JERUSALEM: Israel edged ever closer to a third general election in a year Wednesday, as Benny Gantz announced his Blue and White coalition -- the winner of the most seats in September's national poll -- was unable to form a government.
The centrist former army general, whose party was narrowly ahead of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing Likud after those elections, said he had tried everything during his 28-day negotiation period to secure a majority in Israel's 120-seat parliament.
"I raised every stone to try and form a national unity government," he said in a speech after informing President Reuven Rivlin he would be handing back the mandate.
"I ran into a wall of losers who did everything to prevent Israeli citizens from benefitting from a government under my leadership."
Incumbent Netanyahu, who has been in power since 2009, had been the first to be handed a 28-day negotiation period by Rivlin, but was unsuccessful in the task of forming a coalition, prompting the president to give Gantz the same opportunity.
Rivlin will now hand the mandate to the Israeli parliament, which has three weeks to try and find a candidate capable of getting the backing of the majority of the country's 120 lawmakers.
If that period passes without a breakthrough, new elections will be called for early 2020 -- the third national polls within 12 months.
Polls held last April also led to stalemate in a proportional system reliant on coalition building.
Netanyahu, who is fighting corruption allegations he denies, would remain caretaker leader until the new elections.
Netanyahu responded immediately after Gantz's announcement, saying he remained open to talks in the coming weeks.
"Israel needs a government of national unity and that is why in the name of the security of Israel and in the name of the will of the people, we must form this government together," he said, addressing Gantz.
Gantz's negotiation period was due to expire at midnight Wednesday but his hopes of forming a government were in effect dashed at lunchtime when potential kingmaker Avigdor Lieberman announced he would not back him.
The former defence minister's Yisrael Beitenu party has eight seats and held the balance of power between Gantz's and Netanyahu's blocs.
Lieberman had refused to join either coalition, accusing Gantz of being reliant upon the support of Israel's Arab parties and Netanyahu of being slave to the whims of ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties.
Instead, the former defence minister favoured forming a unity government between his party, Likud and Blue and White.
Both Gantz and Netanyahu said they supported the proposal -- which would entail rotating the premiership -- but disagreed who should be prime minister first.
Talks had continued late into Tuesday but collapsed into mutual accusations of blame.
Lieberman said both Gantz and Netanyahu had put their personal interests ahead of the country's.
"If we are dragged to new elections it will be because of a lack of leadership," he said.
A 60-year-old former paratrooper, Gantz had no previous political experience when he declared himself Netanyahu's electoral rival in December.
But he has posed the most serious challenge to Netanyahu since he became premier in 2009.
New elections would be deeply unpopular with the public, but columnist Ben Caspit, writing in the Maariv daily Wednesday morning, said they were now all but inevitable.
"The path towards establishing a government in Israel has never been at a greater impasse," he wrote.
"We are going to need a miracle to avert a third election."
Netanyahu also faces a threat to his political career from the corruption allegations.
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit is due to decide by December whether to charge him over a series of accusations he denies.
An indictment might permanently damage Netanyahu's support, whereas a reprieve could give him a new lease of life.


Change needed in Lebanon after Beirut blast, says German foreign minister

Updated 32 min 35 sec ago

Change needed in Lebanon after Beirut blast, says German foreign minister

  • Maas gave a check for over 1 million euro to the Lebanese Red Cross
  • It is part of 20 million euros in humanitarian aid from Germany

BEIRUT: Germany’s foreign minister said on Wednesday that Lebanon needed a government that can fight corruption and enact reforms as he toured Beirut port, scene of the devastating explosion that has triggered protests and led the government to resign.
Last week’s blast at a warehouse storing highly-explosive material for years killed at least 171 people, injured some 6,000 and damaged swathes of the Mediterranean city, compounding a deep economic and financial crisis.
“It is impossible that things go on as before,” Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said. “The international community is ready to invest but needs securities for these investments. It is important to have a government that fights the corruption.”
“Many in Europe have a lot of interest for this country. They want to know that there are economic reforms and good governance. Whoever takes over responsibility in Lebanon has a lot to do.”
Maas gave a check for over 1 million euro to the Lebanese Red Cross, part of 20 million euros in humanitarian aid from Germany.
International humanitarian assistance has poured in but foreign countries have made clear they will not write blank cheques to a state viewed by its own people as deeply corrupt. Donors are seeking enactment of long-demanded reforms in return for financial assistance to pull Lebanon from economic meltdown.
The resignation of Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s government has plunged Lebanon into deeper uncertainty. Its talks with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout had already been put on hold over a row between the government, banks and politicians about the scale of vast financial losses.
Sitting amid the debris, Lebanese expressed their frustration at the state for abandoning them in their desperate efforts to rebuild homes and businesses wrecked in the blast.
“Who knows what will happen. How will we get back to business,” said Antoinne Matta, 74, whose safe and lock store was heavily damaged by the blast. Five employees were wounded.
“We in Lebanon are used to the government not doing anything.”
Unrest has erupted with Lebanese calling for the wholesale removal of a ruling class they brand as responsible for the country’s woes. The financial crisis has ravaged the currency, paralyzed banks and sent prices soaring.
Officials have said the blast could have caused losses of $15 billion, a bill Lebanon cannot pay, given the depths of the financial crisis that has seen people frozen out of their savings accounts since October amid dollar scarcity.
The central bank has instructed local banks to extend interest-free dollar loans to individuals and businesses for essential repairs, and that it would in turn provide those financial institutions with the funding.
Bandali Gharabi, whose photo studio was destroyed, said that so far local authorities had only give him a compensation sheet to fill out. He does not know if the bank will provide financial assistance because he already has a car loan.
“Everything is gone,” he said. “I just want someone to rebuild my shop.”
President Michel Aoun has promised a swift and transparent investigation into the blast at a warehouse where authorities say more than 2,000 tons of ammonium nitrate was stored for years without safety measures. He has said the probe would look into whether it was negligence, an accident or external factors.
Reuters reported that Aoun and Diab were warned in July about the warehoused ammonium nitrate, according to documents and senior security sources.
The presidency did not respond to requests for comment about the warning letter.
An emergency donor conference raised pledges of nearly 253 million euros ($298 million) for immediate humanitarian relief.
Volunteers and construction workers with bulldozers were still clearing wreckage from neighborhoods more than a week after the blast. Rows of destroyed cars were still parked in front of damaged stores and demolished buildings.
Nagy Massoud, 70, was sitting on the balcony when the blast gutted his apartment. He was saved by a wooden door that protected him from flying debris. A stove injured his wife.
His pension is frozen in a bank account he cannot access due to capital controls prompted by the economic crisis.
“Where is the government,” he said, looking around his shattered apartment.