Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and rival Benny Gantz may be closing in on a coalition deal that would allow the formation of a government and prevent Israel from heading to its third election in under a year, Channel 12 reported on Monday.
Citing sources with knowledge of the negotiations between Likud and Gantz’s Blue and White party, the network said the two parties are now discussing the possibility, proposed by Likud, of a prime ministerial rotation in which Netanyahu will remain in office for a year before stepping aside in favor of Gantz.
Should Netanyahu go on trial for criminal charges during that first year, he will begin a leave of absence, according to the proposal. Gantz will then be prime minister, the report said. A power-sharing agreement was first floated by President Reuven Rivlin.
However, there are still reportedly two issues preventing a unity government. The first is the lack of a law that would require Netanyahu to step down with the opening of his trial, and the second is the issue of the legal immunity that the prime minister has sought as he battles the corruption allegations in three cases.
Shas leader Aryeh Deri on Monday night said he would ensure that Netanyahu would take the leave of absence if indicted. An announcement on criminal charges against Netanyahu is expected by the end of the year.
In a bid to encourage Gantz to form a unity government, the Shas party chief pledged to quit the government if Netanyahu does not take leave as promised, though it remained unclear whether Shas would be included in such a coalition. United Torah Judaism’s Yaakov Litzman offered a similar pledge.
Other reports on Monday signaled the talks remained deadlocked.
According to Israeli public broadcaster Kan, Gantz is actively considering forming a minority government with the support of the predominantly Arab Joint List. The broadcaster cited an unnamed source close to Gantz who stated that “Benny is beginning to realize that if the mandate [to form a government] ends, he may pay a price. If there is no choice, we will go to a minority government to take power.”
In a dramatic announcement Saturday night, Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman presented a challenge to both Netanyahu and Blue and White chairman Gantz, saying that if they do not accept tough compromises in order to form a coalition together, he will back the other candidate and renege on his pledge to only support a national unity government.
“Gantz must accept the president’s plan, including a leave of absence, and Netanyahu should say goodbye to his ultra-Orthodox messianic bloc,” Liberman told Channel 12 news.
Liberman implied that if Netanyahu refused to separate from the 55-MK bloc of right-wing and religious parties, he could support, from the outside, a minority government led by Gantz. Such an arrangement would see the hawkish right-wing leader allied with the Arab lawmakers, whom he has long accused of “disloyalty” and “terror support.”
Last week, Likud and Blue and White issued a joint statement following the third round of negotiations since Rivlin tasked Gantz last month with attempting to form a coalition.
“The big gaps between the parties remain intact,” the parties said, describing the atmosphere of the talks as “good, serious and interesting.”
The talks 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 last 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.
“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.”
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.
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. He has until November 20 to lock down a government.