Blue and White leader Benny Gantz on Thursday called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party to hold negotiations on forming a unity government — a day after the premier was tasked by President Reuven Rivlin with forming a coalition and after efforts to foster talks on a unity partnership broke down.
At a Blue and White faction meeting in Tel Aviv, Gantz said the focus of coalition negotiations should be not on doling out ministerial portfolios but on policy.
“The position is not important. Why is it important who holds what portfolio? This should be talked about only after [matters of] substance,” he said. “I am not looking to be a prime minister for the sake of honor. I asked for the public’s trust for the sake of a mission and not for the sake of power.”
Gantz stressed that Blue and White was not motivated by personal animus toward Netanyahu but rather, in refusing to partner with Likud so long as Netanyahu is the party leader, it opposes him over his pending indictment in a series of graft cases.
“We’re not just ‘Not Bibi.’ We’re not attacking him on a personal level. We’re looking for integrity in public,” Gantz said, using Netanyahu’s nickname. “We’re looking to act against corruption and can’t sit with a prime minister against whom there are active indictments.”
Gantz also blamed Netanyahu for initiating the past two elections and said Israel may be headed to a third.
“Maybe he has an interest in leading us to additional elections. Elections that are likely to lead to a rift between the citizens and the state.”
Despite having ruled out sitting in a government with Netanyahu, Gantz called on the Likud leader to hold talks on establishing a unity coalition, albeit without his bloc of right-wing religious allies.
“I call on Netanyahu and Likud to come for negotiations with discussion about content and with no preconditions. Without spin or blocs. For the sake of the nation of Israel, let’s truly build here a unity government,” he said.
Likud has said it is negotiating on behalf of three other right-wing and religious parties who signed a pact with it, but Blue and White insisted its unity talks were only with Likud and not its allies.
Earlier Thursday, Likud ministers said the party was open to the idea of a compromise power-sharing deal with Blue and White in a unity government.
“We are ready and willing to negotiate on the basis of the framework presented by the president. The direction that he proposed is correct,” said Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, a Likud negotiator in the coalition talks, in an interview with the Kan public broadcaster. “This alternative is not what we had hoped for, but it’s much better than third elections.”
His comments were echoed by Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz.
Steinitz, a close confidant of Netanyahu, assessed that Blue and White had given a cold shoulder to the proposal because of disputes between party leader Gantz and his No. 2, MK Yair Lapid.
Blue and White denied the claim.
Rivlin had tried to broker a unity government deal between Netanyahu and Gantz, whose party won the most seats in the election but who had less support than Netanyahu from other lawmakers to cobble together a coalition.
Following the breakdown of two days of talks brokered by Rivlin, the president gave Netanyahu the mandate to try to form a coalition. Accepting the mandate, Netanyahu again appealed to Gantz to join him in a unity government under a “joint leadership.”
Netanyahu will now have 28 days to form a government, with a possible two-week extension. If all attempts fail, Rivlin can then assign the task to someone else.
Final results from September 17 voting gave Gantz’s centrist Blue and White 33 seats, ahead of right-wing Likud’s 32 out of a total 120 seats in the Knesset.
Neither has a clear path to a majority coalition.
Speaking on Wednesday night, the president said he had proposed a unity government in which power would be equally divided, and arrangements by which an “interim prime minister” would enjoy all prime ministerial authority if the prime minister was forced to take a leave of absence.
He stressed that Israelis do not want a third round of elections, saying “the public will pay the price” of a failure by Netanyahu and Gantz to find common ground.
Gantz has ruled out his Blue and White alliance joining a government led by a prime minister facing serious criminal charges.
“Blue and White led by me will not agree to sit in a government with a leader facing a severe indictment,” Gantz said late Wednesday.
Netanyahu is facing an indictment, pending a hearing next week, in three corruption cases, one of which also includes a count of bribery. He denies all the charges.
On Thursday Netanyahu urged Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to allow his pre-indictment hearing to be broadcast live.