Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday that his Likud party was “ready for elections,” as he and rival Benny Gantz again traded blame for the stalling of unity talks, a week before the December 11 deadline for preventing elections.
The comments came a day after a meeting between Gantz and Netanyahu broke down after just 45 minutes, as the sides failed to make progress on an elusive unity deal and blamed each other for being too stubborn to solve the impasse.
If no lawmaker manages to get the support of at least 61 members of the 120-strong Knesset by December 11, elections will be called for the third time in less than a year. If those third elections are called, the first possible date for them to be held would be February 25, 2020, according to a Knesset legal official.
Neither Likud head Netanyahu nor Gantz, leader of the centrist Blue and White party, has so far been able to form a government, even though both have publicly said they want to avoid a third vote. Two rounds of elections, in April and September, failed to produce an elected government — a first in Israeli political history.
On the tarmac at Ben Gurion Airport before leaving for Portugal to meet US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Netanyahu said that while he desires a unity government, he understands frustrations expressed earlier by Likud lawmaker Miki Zohar, who said the faction was done talking to Blue and White.
“They’re not moving one millimeter. One nano-meter, they’re not moving,” Netanyahu told reporters. “We made all kinds of proposals, with all kinds of ways to make sure that this unity government will be stable, but they are simply refusing.”
He repeated his accusation that Blue and White No. 2 Yair Lapid was preventing a compromise.
Netanyahu said that if a unity government proves impossible, “we are ready for elections, and we will win the elections.”
“We’re making every possible effort. It’s still open. We don’t need entirely unnecessary elections. But if we’re forced into third elections, we will win them.”
Gantz responded that the premier “has been digging in his heels and has not been offering anything new. That is not how you conduct negotiations. He needs to look me — and Israeli citizens — in the eye and say what he thinks and wants instead of shirking responsibility.”
He also denied Netanyahu’s claim that Lapid was blocking compromise, declaring himself responsible for the party’s decisions “while holding consultations with my colleagues.”
Zohar, the Likud faction leader, told Kan radio Wednesday that his party would not hold any more negotiations with Blue and White, declaring that “a unity government with Blue and White will not be formed, they are no longer relevant. I am preparing for another election. That is the direction in which we are sadly going.”
Blue and White responded to Zohar’s remarks in a statement, saying: “The cat is out of the bag — Netanyahu wants elections. We call on all the parties to support forming a broad unity government and avoid unnecessary elections toward which we are being dragged by one man due to his legal predicament.”
Minutes after Tuesday’s meeting ended, Netanyahu’s Likud party attacked Blue and White for failing to accept its “far-reaching concessions.”
“The prime minister offered to creatively anchor in law the [premiership] rotation. In the face of far-reaching concessions, Blue and White continues to refuse to form a unity government over the veto imposed by [Blue and White No. 2 Yair] Lapid,” Netanyahu’s party said.
Blue and White, meanwhile, accused Netanyahu of failing to bring anything new to the table.
“The Likud chairman brought no offer that matches his legal situation or recognizes that he lost the elections, or any new offer at all. In the meeting, he refused to commit to the basic guidelines for the government or to not seek personal immunity.”
Speaking Monday at a Blue and White faction meeting, Gantz reiterated that he was prepared to enter a unity government, but only if he serves as prime minister first. The centrist alliance has ruled out joining a government led by Netanyahu, who faces criminal charges in three cases, including bribery in one of them.
Reports in recent days have indicated that Likud is seeking a unity deal that would leave Netanyahu as prime minister for six months, after which Gantz would take over. Blue and White has reportedly expressed worries that Netanyahu will renege, after using the time to gain immunity from criminal charges hanging over his head.
A report Tuesday detailed a far-reaching deal that would see Netanyahu remain prime minister for 3-6 months, give Blue and White a trove of powerful ministries and have both sides back annexation of the West Bank’s Jordan Valley. But a number of sticking points meant the potential pact was still a long-shot, according to Channel 13 news.