Coalition talks resume, with Gantz threatening anti-Netanyahu legislation

Blue and White leader, who is Knesset speaker, hints he’ll approve a bill to rule out an indicted PM if no deal reached by Monday

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz in the Knesset, November 10, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz in the Knesset, November 10, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Negotiators for the Likud and Blue and White parties met again Thursday evening in a continued effort to forge a unity government deal, as Blue and White leader Benny Gantz issued a tacit threat to resume legislative action against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu if a deal isn’t sealed soon.

A joint statement sent out at 1 a.m. Friday said the meeting had ended and both sides had agreed to continue talks, indicating no deal had been reached.

As the renewed negotiations got underway some six hours earlier, a Blue and White statement said Gantz, who is Knesset speaker, had “informed faction members that he intends to have the Knesset functioning fully from next week, as is appropriate and as he vowed when he was elected Knesset speaker.”

This was understood as a threat — and was reportedly confirmed as such by Blue and White sources — that if a coalition deal is not approved by Monday, Gantz could advance legislation that would prevent Netanyahu from forming a government.

The proposed bill, which is projected to win majority support in parliament, aims to block anyone facing criminal charges from forming a coalition, effectively disqualifying Netanyahu.

Netanyahu earlier in the day publicly invited Gantz for a meeting, but the latter reportedly only intends to join the talks in person if a breakthrough is achieved.

Gantz had previously threatened to pass bills barring anyone facing a criminal indictment — as Netanyahu does in three corruption cases — but backed down at the last moment late last month, instead opening negotiations for a unity deal with Netanyahu and leading to the splitting of Blue and White.

More recently, amid reports that a deal had been been reached before Likud backed down due to pressure from its right-wing allies, Gantz allies accused Netanyahu of dragging out the talks with the aim of going for additional elections, the fourth in a row.

Recent surveys have shown Netanyahu’s Likud rising in the polls, though calling a new national vote during a crisis is seen as risky, with the public mood liable to swing in the months leading up to an election that would likely be held in August.

Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman holds a press conference in Neve Ilan, near Jerusalem, on March 11, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Yisrael Beytenu party announced earlier Thursday that it would propose five bills in the Knesset that would present a “tangible threat” to Netanyahu — forcing the premier to seal the deal on a unity government with Blue and White.

President Reuven Rivlin informed Gantz on Thursday morning that his mandate to form a government had ended, after he failed to present a coalition to the Knesset by Wednesday’s midnight deadline.

Rivlin announced earlier this week he would not hand the mandate to Netanyahu, but would rather trigger the start of the 21-day period during which the entire Knesset as a whole may select a candidate to form a government. The move was widely seen as intended to force Netanyahu and Gantz to stop dithering and seal a unity deal quickly amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The passing of the mandate to the Knesset gives Netanyahu and Gantz three more weeks to seal a deal, and also theoretically opens the door to other coalition possibilities.

President Reuven Rivlin, center, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz shake hands at the memorial ceremony for the late president Shimon Peres at the Mount Herzl cemetery in Jerusalem on September 19, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A main point of contention between the sides in recent days was believed to be Likud’s desire to make changes to judicial appointment procedures to give it greater control over the process.

Another key issue was reportedly Netanyahu’s concern that the High Court of Justice may rule that he cannot be prime minister due to the criminal charges, a development that could leave Gantz as prime minister for the whole term of their coalition. Netanyahu has therefore reportedly been trying to engineer some kind of legislative guarantee that Gantz would not take over as prime minister in the event of such a court ruling.

Under Israel’s Basic Law: The Government, if the Knesset fails to agree on a candidate in the allotted three weeks, it is automatically dissolved and new elections are called. If a candidate does secure 61 votes, that person has 14 additional days to form a government before an election must be called.

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