Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid and Telem Chairman Moshe "Bogie" Ya'alon announced on Thursday the disbandment of the Blue & White alliance.
The move came in protest of Blue & White leader Benny Gantz's decision to submit his candidacy for Knesset speaker with less than an hour before court-mandated voting was to take place.
The Gantz's initiative caused turmoil within the Blue & White ranks, which include a sizable faction from Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid party. Gantz's candidacy did, however, win the support of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing bloc, hinting at a unity government in the works.
According to Channel 12’s political commentator Amit Segal, in the emerging coalition with Likud, Gantz will be the foreign minister. Chili Tropper, of Gantz’s Israel Resilience Party, will be the justice minister. Gabi Ashkenazi will be the defense minister.
Gantz will ostensibly become prime minister in 18 months — in September 2021.
In an impassioned Knesset speech, Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg protested Gantz’s imminent alliance with Netanyahu.
“You’ll end up a rug under the feet of an alleged crook, an inciter and racist,” Zandberg said. “We’re standing here in shock trying to internalize the depth of your deception… the disaster you’re inflicting on millions of voters [who backed] the left-democratic bloc… who sought an alternative [to Netanyahu]. What have you done, Benny Gantz? How can you do this to the millions of voters who supported you?"
Zandberg stressed that her Meretz party "will have no part" in a Gantz-Netanyahu government.
Blue & White had been expected to tap former Dimona mayor and close Lapid ally Meir Cohen for the role. Sources said Lapid threatened to split the party over the move.
According to Channel 12, Gantz sources said that an agreement with Likud on a unity government had not been reached, but appointing Cohen would have made such an option impossible.
The Blue & White alliance is comprised of Gantz's Israel Resilience Party, Yesh Atid and Ya'alon's Telem. The three party heads comprise the leadership of Blue & White along with Gabi Ashkenazi, who like Gantz and Ya'alon, is a former IDF chief of staff.
The High Court of Justice ordered the vote for a parliamentary speaker to be held on Thursday afternoon during a showdown with a Netanyahu ally, a move that could threaten the prime minister's long hold on power.
In what the court called an unprecedented challenge of its authority by a public official, outgoing Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein had disobeyed its order to hold an election for the post - a vote he was set to lose. Instead, Edelstein submitted his resignation on Wednesday.
Attacking Edelstein's defiance but stopping short of penalizing him in a contempt hearing, the court empowered Labor leader Amir Peretz to hold a vote for the speaker's post later in the day.
Edelstein belongs to Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party, and his resignation removed a potential obstacle to opposition plans to pass a law barring the prime minister, as an indicted suspect in three corruption cases, from forming a new government following a March 2 national election.
Amid a deep political stalemate, no government has been formed to replace a caretaker administration. But the main opposition Blue & White, controls a slim majority of 61 of the Knesset's parliament's 120 seats.
Gantz's 28-day presidential mandate to establish a governing coalition expires in a little over two weeks, when Netanyahu could get the nod.
Under law, Gantz could ask for a two-week extension but after three inconclusive national elections in less than a year, he might not get one.
Edelstein had cited the coronavirus crisis and pursuit of Netanyahu's call for a "national emergency government" with Gantz as valid reasons for postponing the election for speaker in the newly sworn-in parliament. He said he was acting as a matter of conscience.
In a decision released on Thursday, Chief Justice Esther Hayut said Edelstein's disobedience of the rule of law set a bad example for ordinary Israelis faced with restrictions on their movement to help prevent the spread of coronavirus.
Netanyahu, who has denied charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, has made no comment on the controversy. But some Likud members accused the court of undermining democracy in forcing a Knesset vote.