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Deal still elusive as Likud, Blue and White said to resume coalition talks

Reports say PM’s concerns over judicial appointments, top court possibly blocking him from forming government are sticking points between parties

Composite photo shows Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Blue and White party chief Benny Gantz, right. (Flash90)
Composite photo shows Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Blue and White party chief Benny Gantz, right. (Flash90)

Coalition negotiations between the Likud and Blue and White parties reportedly resumed Friday, but there were still no signs a deal to form a new government was nearing after talks between the sides blew up earlier this week.

The negotiating teams exchanged messages, though there were no official meetings or conversations, the Walla news site reported.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz spoke Wednesday before the start of the Passover holiday, agreeing to resume negotiations after Passover and stressing their commitment to forming a government.

Hours earlier, their parties traded blame for the impasse in talks, with Gantz claiming the sides had nearly reached a coalition agreement but Likud sought to change an understanding reached on judicial appointments.

Netanyahu’s party was previously said to have demanded veto rights in the judicial appointments committee, or that decisions only pass with a majority of eight out of nine members. Those demands were then shelved — with the parties agreeing that any decisions be made in agreement — before Likud was reported to have gone back on the matter, leading negotiations to stall.

Channel 12 reported Friday that Gantz was unwilling to back down, because safeguarding Israel’s judiciary was one of his key justifications for backing down on his promise to never serve under Netanyahu, who has been charged in three corruption cases.

An unsourced Channel 13 news report on Friday said that besides the issue of judicial appointments, another sticking point in the coalition talks was Netanyahu’s concern the High Court of Justice could rule that a Knesset member under indictment cannot be tasked with forming the government.

The court declined to rule on the matter in January, saying it would be “premature” to do so before the March 2 elections since it was unclear at that time whether Netanyahu would be tapped to assemble a government.

According to the Friday TV report, Netanyahu wants to expand legislation anchoring the agreement that he hand over the prime ministership to Gantz 18 months from now — which the parties are set to pass — to include additional provisions designed to deter the High Court from hearing a petition that could disqualify Netanyahu from serving as prime minister.

It was unclear from the report what exactly this kind of legislation would entail.

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)

Separately, Channel 12 news reported Friday that President Reuven Rivlin was only expected to approve Gantz’s expected request for an extension of his mandate to form a government if Netanyahu agrees.

Otherwise, Rivlin may decide no one can form a government, it said, potentially setting Israel on course to a fourth round of elections, though the report did not specify this.

Gantz said Sunday he would likely seek two-week extension of his mandate, which expires on April 13. Rivlin said he would consider the request.

Gantz’s party has been holding coalition talks with Likud on forming a government in which the two would rotate as premier, with Netanyahu serving first. The negotiations picked up pace after Gantz was elected Knesset speaker with the backing of Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc, causing Blue and White to split.

It wasn’t clear whether Rivlin would be willing to extend Gantz’s mandate since under Israeli law, the Knesset member tasked by the president with forming a government is the one who heads it, and the ongoing negotiations are for a government headed by Netanyahu. (A rotation agreement isn’t anchored in Israeli law, and relies on the premier who serves first voluntarily resigning after a certain period of time.)

Earlier this week, Likud and Blue and White were reported to be on the verge of finalizing an agreement, but the latter on Monday evening said it was breaking off coalition talks with Likud.

The announcement came soon after reports said the parties had reached understandings on the final thorny negotiation issues, including the potential annexation of parts of the West Bank under the US peace proposal.

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