Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his chief rival have met in a final effort to finalise an agreement on an emergency government that would tackle the coronavirus threat and prevent another election.
The meeting between Mr Netanyahu and former military chief Benny Gantz followed an overnight session in which the two asked for, and received, a deadline extension from President Reuven Rivlin to try to complete the talks.
Both Mr Netanyahu and Mr Gantz reported “significant progress” in their negotiations and Mr Rivlin, whose duties include overseeing coalition negotiations, said he was convinced they were close and gave them two more days to wrap up a deal, until midnight on Wednesday.
Should they fail, the clock will start ticking towards the dissolution of parliament and a possible, yet still seemingly improbable, fourth election in just over a year.
Last month’s election, just like the previous two, ended with no clear winner. But with a slight majority of MPs, Mr Gantz got the first shot at building a coalition and appeared poised to move forward with legislation that would have disqualified the indicted Mr Netanyahu from serving as prime minister in the future.
Mr Gantz repeatedly vowed not to sit in government with Mr Netanyahu because of the criminal corruption charges against the prime minister.
But with the virus crisis worsening, and his own shaky alliance fraying, Mr Gantz made an about-face late last month and accepted an offer from Mr Netanyahu to pursue a joint government to deal with the pandemic. The move drew heavy criticism from Mr Gantz’s supporters and caused his Blue and White alliance to crumble, leaving him with a faction of only about half its original size.
Israel has reported more 11,800 cases and at least 117 deaths from the outbreak, which has paralysed the economy, shut Israelis in their homes and driven unemployment to record highs.
Mr Netanyahu and Mr Gantz appeared close to a rotation deal in which each would serve terms as prime minister. But last week negotiations stalled, reportedly over a demand by Mr Netanyahu, who faces an impending corruption trial, to have more influence over judicial appointments.
Mr Netanyahu is awaiting trial on charges of bribery, breach of trust and fraud. He claims to be a victim of a liberal media and judicial system out to get him.