The opposition leader and the prime minister have another 48 hours to negotiate. This would allow Israel to get around the fourth election in a short time.
Less than three hours before the deadline for forming a government, Benny Gantz appealed to Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday evening to form a unified government together. “The moment of truth has come. The people of Israel expect us to clear up our differences and work together for them.” Netanyahu replied on Twitter a few minutes later: “Benny, I’m waiting for you at the Prime Minister’s residence.”
And even though Gantz’s deadline had expired at midnight Israeli time, he had just recently negotiated with Netanyahu at his residence. Apparently with success. Because shortly after the deadline, the rivals of Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin asked for an extension. A joint statement by Netanyahu’s Likud and the Gantz Blue-White Alliance said they had applied for “intending to complete the negotiations to form a national government of emergency”. Rivlin’s office then said the president had been told that the two sides were on the verge of a possible settlement.
And Rivlin was gracious, although he had only rejected Gantz’s request to extend his mandate on Sunday. Previously, Rivlin had separately interviewed the opposition leader and the incumbent head of government about their assessments of the state of the negotiations. Differences became clear: While Gantz assured that they were close to their final breakthrough, Netanyahu announced that the positions were still far apart. At midnight, Gantz’s mandate to negotiate expired after 28 days. The President announced that only if both submit an application does he agree to an extension of what has now happened.
Rivlin had also previously announced that if Gantz failed, he would not hand over the mandate to Netanyahu, but would delegate the task to the Israeli parliament, the Knesset. This earned him fierce criticism from the camp of the former coalition partners of Netanyahu’s right-wing national Likud. The Likud had won the parliamentary election on March 2 before the blue-and-white alliance led by Gantz but had not achieved a majority with its previous partners. Gantz had received more recommendations from MPs than Netanyahu to form a government, which is why Rivlin asked him to do so.
In the end, the decision could end up with the Knesset – or again with the voter
If the Knesset comes into play, the 120 MPs will have three weeks to agree on someone from their ranks as prime minister with a majority of 61 votes – that could be Gantz or Netanyahu, who has led a transitional government since December 2018. If this deadline expires in the Knesset, the Israelis will have to go to parliamentary elections for the fourth time within a few months.
According to Gantz, there was already a basic agreement last week to form a “government of national unity”, which the Labor Party could also belong to. Until recently the Likud’s demand for a veto right to appoint judges was controversial. Also, according to Israeli media reports, Netanyahu wanted a guarantee that the Supreme Court could not deny him the office of the head of government on charges of corruption. Netanyahu is charged with infidelity, fraud, and corruption. The start of the trial, scheduled for mid-March, has been postponed due to the Corona crisis.
His former allies in the blue-and-white alliance, Jair Lapid and Moshe Jaalon warned Gantz against giving Netanyahu immunity.
Gantz had agreed to the formation of an emergency government because the political forces had to unite to combat the coronavirus. In doing so, Gantz had not only surprised his partners in the blue-and-white alliance but also broken his central campaign promise that he would not sit in a government with a defendant. Gantz was elected President of the Knesset with the votes of Netanyahu’s previous coalition partners, and his alliance broke up. The left-wing alliance between the Labor Party and Meretz also dissolved when Labor Party leader Amir Peretz announced that he wanted to belong to the unity government. If there is another election, the opposition moves into the election campaign in a disputed and weakened manner.
According to a survey by TV station 12, the Likud could increase significantly from 36 to 40 seats, the previous coalition led by Netanyahu would have a clear majority of 71 of the 120 mandates in the Knesset. The previous blue and white alliance would only have 29 seats instead of 33.