Israelis wait on potential unity deal as Bibi and Gantz meet over deadlock
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Israelis wait on potential unity deal as Bibi and Gantz meet over deadlock

Incumbent PM and former IDF chief could work together in a power-sharing deal in order to overcome the political stalemate after two elections

Benny Gantz, former Israeli Army Chief of Staff and chairman of the Blue and White Israeli centrist political alliance, seen after he cast his vote during the Israeli legislative elections, in Rosh Haayin, Israel, 17 September 2019.. Photo by: JINIPIX
Benny Gantz, former Israeli Army Chief of Staff and chairman of the Blue and White Israeli centrist political alliance, seen after he cast his vote during the Israeli legislative elections, in Rosh Haayin, Israel, 17 September 2019.. Photo by: JINIPIX

Israelis were waiting this week to see whether Benny Gantz and Benjamin Netanyahu could work together in a unity government after this month’s election showed neither had enough support to form a government without the other.

Former IDF chief Gantz jointly leads the centrist Blue and White party with former finance minister Yair Lapid, while Netanyahu heads the right-wing Likud. Gantz and Lapid won 33 seats, while Likud won 31. With 120 Knesset seats, any prime minister needs to command a majority of at least 61.

Netanyahu was unable to form a coalition after Israel’s last election in April and called this month’s vote rather than let Gantz try. However, the tactic appears to have backfired, with Gantz emerging two points ahead this time.

The task of giving a political leader the opportunity to form a government falls to Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin, who has been urged to facilitate talks between Gantz and Netanyahu, aimed at forming a unity government.

The two men, who may each serve two years as prime minister under a rotational agreement, reportedly met for two hours at Rivlin’s residence in Jerusalem on Monday evening, speaking alone for half an hour. Chief negotiators for the two parties met on Tuesday for more structured talks.

Conscious that most Israelis are desperate to avoid a third election, Rivlin said “we have taken a significant step” with the meeting, but Likud publicly said it would not abandon its right-wing and strictly-Orthodox allies, while Blue and White said it had “no intention of relinquishing our lead, our principles or our natural partners”.

Whether Gantz or Netanyahu will serve the first two years is assumed to be the major stumbling block in the negotiations. Netanyahu has his first pre-indictment hearing in a few days, and Gantz has previously said he could not serve in any government with Netanyahu while his legal woes were ongoing.

If Gantz and Netanyahu agree to work together, it will be Israel’s fourth unity government, the first having been formed on the eve of the Six Day War, to deal with the existential threat facing the country. Others since have come about through parliamentary gridlock.

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