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Netanyahu says Palestinian MPs seeking to 'destroy' Israel in 'racist' tirade

Under pressure as Gantz attempts to form government, prime minister says coalition supported by Joint List would be a 'historic national attack'
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses members of his right-wing party bloc at a conference in Tel Aviv (Reuters)

Benjamin Netanyahu claimed on Saturday that Israel’s Palestinian MPs sought to “destroy the country”, in an address accused of being blatantly racist.

With the prime minister’s rival Benny Gantz stepping up attempts to form a government, Netanyahu said a coalition supported by the Palestinian Joint List would be a “historic national attack on the State of Israel”.

“If a minority government like this is formed, they will celebrate in Tehran, Ramallah and Gaza, the way they celebrate after every terror attack,” he told hundreds of supporters during an event described as an “emergency conference”.

Without proof, Netanyahu said Gantz’s Blue and White party conducted negotiations with “the very members of Knesset who support the terror organisations and who want to destroy the country” during last week’s clashes in Gaza.

'This evening, he sealed his legacy as a bitter criminal who doesn’t know how to lose, only to harm and incite against those he was supposed to serve'

- Ayman Odeh, Joint List head

Israel’s assassination of Islamic Jihad leader Baha Abu al-Atta sparked two days of rocket fire from the Gaza Strip into Israel and Israeli air strikes on the besieged enclave that killed 35 Palestinians, including women and children.

Some MPs from the Joint List criticised the targeted assassination - a policy accused of dangerously stoking tensions without significant effect - but none have expressed support for Islamic Jihad.

Failing to form a government after September’s elections, Netanyahu gave way to Gantz to attempt to cobble together a coalition.

Neither the prime minister nor his ex-army chief rival have enough partners in parliament to form a 61-MP majority.

However, in recent days it has been suggested that Gantz will attempt to form a minority government with the Joint List providing parliamentary support without participating in the cabinet.

The Blue and White leader has until Wednesday to form a government. If he fails, members of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, can choose someone else to try or vote for an election. Israel has had two elections this year already.

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A Gantz-led government relying on the Joint List would be an “existential threat” to Israel, Netanyahu said to jeers from the crowd, adding that it would be “a breaking point in the country’s history”.

In response, Joint List head Ayman Odeh said Netanyahu’s inflammatory rhetoric will leave the longtime prime minister’s legacy in tatters.

“There won’t be a ‘Benjamin junction’ or ‘Netanyahu high school.’ This evening, he sealed his legacy as a bitter criminal who doesn’t know how to lose, only to harm and incite against those he was supposed to serve,” he tweeted.

“All of us, Arabs and our Jewish partners, will breathe a sigh of relief the day [Netanyahu] goes and we’ll continue to fight for peace, equality, democracy and social justice.”

Join List MP Yousef Jabareen called Netanyahu a "racist and liar".

Blue and White, meanwhile, compared Netanyahu’s “emergency conference” to his response to Israeli citizens’ welfare during last week’s Gaza flare-up.

“Residents of the south did not get an ’emergency rally,’ neither did the sick who are strewn in [hospital] corridors, nor the elderly or disabled,” the party said in a statement.

“As usual, Netanyahu only cares about Netanyahu.”