Benny Gantz on Wednesday night ruled out his Blue and White alliance joining a government led by a prime minister facing serious criminal charges, a reference to the legal woes of Benjamin Netanyahu, whom the president tasked earlier with forming a coalition.
“Blue and White led by me will not agree to sit in a government with a leader facing a severe indictment,” Gantz said.
Netanyahu is facing an indictment, pending a hearing next week, in three corruption cases, one of which also includes a count of bribery.
In a statement, the Blue and White leader also complained that Netanyahu’s insistence in holding coalition talks as head of a bloc of parties comprising his Likud and the religious right was stymieing the prospect of unity.
Gantz urged instead that only the two largest parties in the Knesset — his own and Likud — negotiate a solution to the political deadlock that has remained unresolved over two rounds of elections.
Teams from both Likud and Blue and White held a 90-minute meeting Tuesday in a long-shot effort to solve the logjam.
On Wednesday, President Reuven Rivlin invited Netanyahu and Gantz to one-on-one talks in a last-ditch effort to reach an agreement for a unity government. Later in the day, explaining his decision to pick Netanyahu, Rivlin said that though neither the Likud head nor Gantz had the support of a majority of lawmakers, the premier still had a better shot at forming a government.
“For me the only question is who has the best possibility to form a coalition. In this situation, 55 MKs supported Netanyahu and 54 supported Gantz. But 10 of those from the Joint List said they would not sit with Gantz, whereas the full bloc of 55 said they would support Netanyahu,” Rivlin said, standing alongside Netanyahu at his official residence.
Rivlin said he conditioned giving the mandate to form a government on the candidate agreeing to return it if he fails to do so. After failing to form a government following the elections in April, Netanyahu pushed through a vote to dissolve the Knesset and call a snap poll, rather than allow Gantz to get a crack at building a coalition.
Rivlin twice stressed in his speech Wednesday 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.
Speaking after Rivlin, Netanyahu said the only option was a “broad” unity government — implying the inclusion of the religious right — “now and fast” to address the country’s security, economic and diplomatic challenges.
AFP contributed to this report.