Gantz to try for control of Knesset Monday; Likud blasts move amid virus crisis

Gantz to try for control of Knesset Monday; Likud blasts move amid virus crisis

Blue and White plans vote to replace Speaker Edelstein in power play against PM; premier’s party decries actions as disgraceful as country deals with ‘national emergency’

Hopes of the Likud and Blue and White parties coming together amid a national emergency appeared dampened on Friday as Blue and White announced plans to replace the Knesset speaker next week and the prime minister’s party issued a scathing rebuke.

The latest political clash came a day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White chief Benny Gantz spoke on the phone of the possibility of forming a temporary government to help Israel weather the current crisis caused by the coronavirus.

Blue and White, in a letter to Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein of Likud on Friday, informed him of its intent to hold a vote Monday on the identity of the new Knesset’s speaker. The move by Blue and White is seen as a power play ahead of coalition-building attempts, as the party believes it can secure a majority in the new legislature for Gantz getting first shot from the president at forming a coalition, as well as for taking the reins of parliament from Likud for the first time in a decade.

Blue and White officials told Army Radio they believed they had a majority for replacing Edelstein.

Likud lambasted the move, accusing its rivals in a statement of playing “small politics” at a time of crisis.

“Blue and White’s statement is a disgrace,” the party said. “The State of Israel is in a state of national emergency, its greatest since it was established. Less than 24 hours after Prime Minister Netanyahu called to form a national emergency government to deal with the coronavirus crisis, Blue and White [show that they] do not understand the significance of the crisis and continue to deal in small politics. Grade ‘F’ in leadership and judgment.”

Sources close to Gantz told the Ynet news site that the issue of a unity government was not progressing, as Blue and White was demanding a meeting of negotiating teams before any one-on-one between the leaders to see what Netanyahu was offering, while Likud said it wanted an immediate meeting between the two party chiefs.

Blue and White is widely expected to propose its MK Meir Cohen as Knesset speaker. Its candidate is expected to have the backing of Yisrael Beytenu and Labor-Meretz, as well as much or all of the Joint List. The position of Gesher’s Orly Levy-Abekasis remains unclear after she declared she would not recommend Gantz as premier.

President Reuven Rivlin will hold consultations with party leaders Sunday after receiving the official results of last week’s election from the Central Elections Committee.

Control of the Knesset speaker position would give the opposition parties more power to advance legislation, including a potential bill that would prevent a person facing criminal charges from forming a government — effectively disqualifying Netanyahu from doing so.

On Friday the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Israel rose to 126 as much of the country shut down and public life was severely curbed by the spread of the pathogen.

Schools, hotels and theaters were shut down, sporting events were canceled and synagogues were severely limiting attendance amid the virus scare.

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