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Gantz Vows to Form Own Government      02/16 10:27

   JERUSALEM (AP) -- Israeli opposition leader Benny Gantz is vowing to form a 
government that will include neither the indicted Prime Minister Benjamin 
Netanyahu nor the predominantly Arab parties in Parliament.

   In a series of TV interviews two weeks before national elections, Gantz 
looked to project confidence that the March 2 vote will provide the decisive 
outcome that eluded the two previous elections last year.

   Gantz's Blue and White party is currently polling ahead of Netanyahu's 
Likud, although neither appears to have a clear path to a parliamentary 
majority required to form a coalition government. 

   Gantz laid out two potential paths while speaking to Channel 12 News on 
Saturday night. He said he's either going to partner with a broad range of 
"Jewish and democratic" parties --- including the ultra-nationalist party led 
by apparent kingmaker Avigdor Lieberman. Or he could team up with the ruling 
Likud Party, but only if it gets rid of longtime leader Netanyahu, who's 
fending off a slew of criminal corruption charges.

   "Netanyahu has ended his historic role from a political standpoint. The 
Likud with Bibi cannot form a government, and without Bibi there's unity," he 
said, referring to Netanyahu by his nickname.

   Gantz, a former military chief, has been campaigning furiously in pursuit of 
a knockout punch as the election grows nearer. He appears to have grown closer 
to Lieberman, whose nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party has bolted from 
Netanyahu's right-wing camp and sparked the unprecedented stalemate in Israeli 
politics that led to the multiple repeat elections.

   Both deny they have reached any pre-election alliance, but Lieberman has all 
but ruled out sitting in government with his former mentor. Lieberman has 
conditioned his participation in government upon the removal of the 
ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties that he says have wielded disproportionate power 
for too long and have been a consistent base for Netanyahu's bloc.

   "The Netanyahu era is over," Lieberman said Saturday, expressing a newfound 
openness to sitting in government with left-wing parties he once shunned.

   Still, the numbers don't seem to add up without at least the tacit support 
of the Arab parties who are anathema to Lieberman's hard-line brand of 
politics. Netanyahu has based his campaign on linking Gantz to the Joint List, 
an umbrella group of mostly Arab parties who represent the country's 20% 
minority, saying he has no option of forming a government without them. Gantz 
denied he will invite them into his government, saying there is too wide an 
ideological gap between them. He also claims he will be strong enough to rule 
without their outside parliamentary support.

   Joint List leader Ayman Odeh says he will act to topple any government that 
includes Lieberman, who has long railed against Arab lawmakers as a fifth 
column and as terrorist sympathizers. And unlike the previous round, he says he 
will not recommend Gantz as prime minister if he continues with an approach of 
"racism toward Arabs."

   Even with the corruption indictment against Netanyahu and the unveiling of 
President Donald Trump's Mideast plan, polls are predicting a similar outcome 
to the previous election in September, when neither Gantz not Netanyahu could 
form a coalition in the time allotted to them. Netanyahu has since fended off 
an internal challenge to his Likud leadership and the party has refused 
previous suggestions it join a unity government without him. But Gantz is 
banking on a surge in support this time around, after judges have already been 
selected to preside over Netanyahu's upcoming trial. The public also seems 
weary of the prospect of yet another deadlocked result and the potential for a 
fourth election.

   Israel's attorney general charged Netanyahu in November on three counts of 
bribery, fraud and breach of trust. Under Israeli law, public officials are 
required to resign if charged with a crime. But that law does not apply to the 
prime minister, who can use his office as a bully pulpit against prosecutors.

   Netanyahu has failed in efforts to secure himself parliamentary immunity, 
and with his trial looming Gantz has been pushing for a fresh start.

   "He's about to go to trial. Just imagine that while he is sitting down to 
prepare for trial with a battery of lawyers about fateful issues from his 
personal standpoint, the military chief of staff needs to hold a very urgent 
meeting at night from a security standpoint," Gantz said.

   Netanyahu has tried to portray himself as a master statesman for securing 
pro-Israel pledges from President Donald Trump, such as extending Israeli 
sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and the West Bank Jewish settlements. But 
Gantz said he too would implement the American president's Mideast plan, 
without all of Netanyahu's baggage.

   "I don't believe anything from Netanyahu. I think he says things only on a 
political level and doesn't mean it," he told Channel 12.


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