Blue and White, Yisrael Beytenu announce progress in coalition talks

In first such statement since Gantz tasked with forming government, parties say they’ve come to understandings on pension raises for elderly, disabled

Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz (right) meets with Yisrael Beytenu party head Avigdor Liberman on September 23, 2019. (Elad Malka)
Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz (right) meets with Yisrael Beytenu party head Avigdor Liberman on September 23, 2019. (Elad Malka)

The Blue and White and Yisrael Beytenu parties said Thursday they reached understandings on several issues in coalition talks, the first such public announcement of progress since Blue and White chief Benny Gantz was tasked last month with forming a government.

“During the day the negotiation team discussed key issues on the agenda, in order to move forward with formulating the principles of a broad, liberal national unity government,” the parties said in a statement.

The parties, led by Gantz and Yisrael Beytenu’s Avigdor Liberman, agreed the next annual budget would feature a minimum monthly pension increase for the elderly to 70 percent of the minimum wage, currently NIS 5,300 ($1,515) a month.

They also agreed the next budget would not adversely impact plans to raise stipends for people with disabilities.

The parties’ negotiators agreed to meet again in the coming days, the statement said.

The progress in talks between Blue and White and Yisrael Beytenu came as negotiations between Gantz’s party and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud have failed to yield a breakthrough.

“The big gaps between the parties remain intact,” Likud and Blue and White said after their negotiating teams met Wednesday. They described the atmosphere of the talks, however, as “good, serious and interesting.” A follow-up meeting will take place “in the coming days,” they said.

Blue and White coalition negotiators Yoram Turbowicz (L) and Shalom Shlomo (second from R) along with Likud’s negotiators Tourism Minister Yariv Levin (second from L) and Michael Rabello (R) meet in Kfar Maccabiah on October 27, 2019. (Elad Malkah)

Elections on September 17 resulted in a political stalemate, with neither Blue and White nor Likud securing enough seats for a majority with their respective allies. Ahead of the vote, Liberman vowed to force a unity government between Yisrael Beytenu, Blue and White and Likud if neither of them could form a government without him.

Netanyahu got first crack at forming a government after the elections, but the baton passed to Gantz after the Likud chief announced his efforts to assemble a coalition failed.

Talks between Likud and Blue and White have been deadlocked, with Gantz accusing Netanyahu of blocking the formation of a new coalition by refusing to show any flexibility regarding Blue and White’s demands. In a series of tweets on Tuesday, Gantz asserted that Netanyahu was pushing the country to its third election in less than a year.

Netanyahu, he maintained, was preventing a Blue and White-Likud unity government from being formed by refusing to abandon his 55-seat-strong bloc of right-wing and religious allies. Both Gantz and Liberman campaigned on forming a liberal unity government that would not include the ultra-Orthodox or some national-religious factions.

Likud has blamed Blue and White’s stubbornness for the failure to agree on a unity government, saying it has agreed in principle to an equal power-sharing arrangement.

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz (L), President Reuven Rivlin (C) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) meet at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on September 25, 2019 (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Gantz has until November 20 to lock down a government.

His attack on Netanyahu came as a report Tuesday on the Globes website said there had in fact been progress in negotiations for a unity government.

The report said the real Blue and White-Likud negotiations weren’t taking place during the public meetings announced to the press, but through a back channel that has been operating almost since the elections.

It said that while several key issues have not yet been resolved, there have also been agreements on principal issues. It also said Gantz and most of his party co-leaders have agreed to a power-sharing mechanism in which Netanyahu will serve first as prime minister but go on a leave of absence once he is charged in three corruption investigations against him. Gantz would then be interim prime minister until Netanyahu’s two years are up, and would then take over the full-time job.

With unity talks stalled, Blue and White has also been engaging in coalition talks with potential left-wing partners, meeting with representatives of Labor-Gesher on Tuesday and announcing that the two sides had made “progress” toward a coalition agreement.

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