Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz launched a fresh attack Tuesday on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, saying his refusal to negotiate on any of his demands in the ongoing coalition talks would ultimately lead to a third election in Israel in under a year.
In a tweet, Gantz said Netanyahu was preventing a Blue and White-Likud unity government from being formed by refusing to abandon his 55 seat-strong bloc of right-wing allies and the prospect of immunity from prosecution in three corruption cases in which charges are pending against him and could be announced this month.
“Netanyahu isn’t willing to give up his bloc. Netanyahu isn’t willing to give up his immunity,” Gantz tweeted. “Netanyahu isn’t willing to discuss the basic guidelines for a unity government.”
“Netanyahu wants to drag Israel to a third election,” he charged. “I will do everything to prevent that. I will do everything to form a government.”
President Reuven Rivlin last month tasked Gantz with attempting to form a coalition, after Netanyahu failed in the wake of the September 17 elections. But Gantz’s chances of succeeding where the prime minister failed are seen as just as slim, with Netanyahu’s bloc of supporting lawmakers from his Likud, right-wing and religious parties refusing to budge.
Blue and White has called for a unity government with Likud, but without its allied ultra-Orthodox and hard-right parties. Likud has refused to negotiate outside of Netanyahu’s 55-strong bloc of supporters.
Gantz’s attack on Netanyahu came as a report Tuesday on the Globes website claimed there had in fact been progress in negotiations for a unity government.
“There won’t be third elections, and the government that will be formed will be a unity government,” the report quoted an anonymous official as saying.
However, the official added that there was a danger that those who oppose a compromise could still sabotage the deal or that even if it is formed it will have quite a bit of internal friction.
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 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. Gantz would then be interim prime minister until Netanyahu’s two years are up, and would then take over the full-time job.
Earlier Tuesday, Likud denied reports that Netanyahu was planning to push for an immediate and drastic change to election law that would reintroduce a direct election for the prime minister, in a last-ditch effort to break the ongoing political deadlock.
“Prime Minister Netanyahu is not promoting the direct election law but the establishment of a broad national unity government — the only government that can be formed and that the State of Israel needs at this time,” the ruling party said in a statement, contradicting its own Knesset faction chair, MK Miki Zohar, who said that the prime minister would support the idea.
“If and when we have to be dragged into another election, we will ask that there be [only] a direct choice between Prime Minister Netanyahu and Benny Gantz. We want this Knesset to remain and we will ask for a direct election. I think that should happen and I also think that Netanyahu will eventually agree to that,” Zohar told the Ynet news site.
“I think he is considering it and I think that ultimately it is the right thing for him and for the country. The ideal solution for me is direct elections without a day off [from work]. It doesn’t cost the state money and we end the political impasse in one day,” he added.
During a Monday meeting of the bloc of right-wing and religious parties that have vowed to support Netanyahu, Shas chairman Interior Minister Aryeh Deri reportedly raised the idea, saying that a direct public vote for prime minister could prevent a full-blown third Knesset election in a year. Netanyahu, however, was said to have rejected the idea out of hand, suggesting that it would not solve the impasse.
While a direct election for prime minister would automatically determine who would form the government, it would not change the coalition arithmetic, and the winner would still need to form a coalition from the same parties elected in September.
Elections in April, and then again in September, did not give either Likud or Blue and White a clear path to forming a coalition with other parties, nor have the two parties been able to agree on a unity government. So far, political figures on all sides and the president have said they want to do everything possible to avoid sending the country to a third vote.
Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.