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Gantz said to tell allies he and PM are ‘on brink of deal’ to form coalition

Blue and White chief informs associates of ‘breakthrough’ in negotiations, TV report says, claims agreement could be signed within the next day

Benny Gantz in Ramat Gan on March 9, 2020 (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Benny Gantz in Ramat Gan on March 9, 2020 (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz has told associates over the past 24 hours that his party and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud are “on the brink of a deal” to form a government, after weeks of political wrangling, Channel 12 news reported Saturday.

Gantz cited “a breakthrough” in talks between the sides, according to the report, and said he saw no reason in principle why the parties could not sign a coalition deal in the next day or so.

Meanwhile in an interview aired on Channel 12 on Saturday evening but recorded Friday before Shabbat (and before Gantz was said to make the comments), a top ally in Blue and White, MK Chili Tropper, attacked Likud and said the prime minister was chiefly concerned with his own political survival.

Tropper said he was “disappointed” by Netanyahu, who he claimed was mostly occupied in negotiations by “the smallest details” of his own status in the potential government. He said any attempt to legislate to override the High Court of Justice would be “a red line” for Blue and White.

“We reached agreements already,” Tropper said. “But Benjamin Netanyahu refuses to sign. Every time he finds a different issue, when mostly it is to do with his personal matters.

“Netanyahu needs to decide whether he is chiefly concerned with what is best for Israel or what is best for him. If this ends without a government it will show deceptiveness and national irresponsibility,” he said.

Blue and White MK Chili Tropper at the Knesset on April 29, 2019 (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

And he hinted that if there would be no progress, the party could move on Monday to advance legislation barring individuals suspected of corruption from serving as prime minister — which would prevent Netanyahu, who has been indicted in three criminal cases, from serving in the post.

But Gantz’s former partner, Moshe Ya’alon of Yesh Atid- Telem told Channel 12 Saturday that though he and ally Yair Lapid support anti-Netanyahu legislation, they would not support it if it was only part of a ploy by Gantz to pressure Netanyahu into a coalition deal.

The network later reported that Likud officials were angered by Tropper’s interview, noting it was given despite the sides agreeing not to interview as they attempted to reach a deal, and claiming it was damaging to the talks.

A main point of contention between the sides in recent days was believed to be Likud’s desire to make changes to judicial appointment procedures to give it greater control over the process.

Another key issue was reportedly Netanyahu’s concern that the High Court may rule that he cannot be prime minister due to the criminal charges against him, a development that could leave Gantz as premier for the whole term of their coalition. Netanyahu has therefore reportedly been trying to engineer some kind of legislative guarantee that Gantz would not take over as prime minister in the event of such a court ruling.

Gantz on Friday afternoon said he did not know if he would succeed in efforts to form a unity government with Netanyahu, but if he failed, he would head to elections with his head held high.

Gantz’s negotiations with Netanyahu caused the centrist Blue and White party to split from former allies Lapid and Ya’alon.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds a press conference at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on March 16, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“Even today, I am unable to tell you if we will succeed in creating a government or not,” he wrote in a Facebook post. “I can tell you that my partners and I are doing everything needed and possible to achieve this, while holding to our principles so that our nation can emerge from one of the greatest crises since its founding.”

“If God forbid it is forced on us, we will go to elections with our heads held high because everyone in this country knows we did everything, truly everything, for the state of Israel at a time of crisis.”

However, Gantz said he believed it would be “crazy” for Israel to be dragged into a fourth election in a little over a year as it deals with the coronavirus, noting that the money and effort would be better used if directed to the health system.

Meanwhile, Gantz also reportedly called ultra-Orthodox party leaders, key members of Netanyahu’s bloc, to complain that the prime minister was not acting in good faith.

Gantz told Shas chairman Ayreh Deri and United Torah Judaism chairman Yaakov Litzman that “Netanyahu was not progressing in talks, and it would be a shame if the country is dragged toward a fourth election,” the Ynet news site reported.

Negotiators for the Likud and Blue and White parties met again Thursday evening in a continued effort to forge a unity government deal, as Gantz issued a tacit threat to resume legislative action against Netanyahu if a deal isn’t sealed soon.

A joint statement sent out at 1 a.m. Friday said the meeting had ended and both sides had agreed to continue talks, indicating no deal had been reached.

As the renewed negotiations got underway some six hours earlier, a Blue and White statement said Gantz, who is Knesset speaker, had “informed faction members that he intends to have the Knesset functioning fully from next week, as is appropriate and as he vowed when he was elected Knesset speaker.”

This was understood as a threat — and was reportedly confirmed as such by Blue and White sources — that if a coalition deal was not approved by Monday, Gantz could advance legislation to prevent Netanyahu from forming a government.

President Reuven Rivlin informed Gantz on Thursday morning that his mandate to form a government had ended, after he failed to present a coalition to the Knesset by Wednesday’s midnight deadline.

Rivlin announced earlier this week he would not hand the mandate to Netanyahu, but would rather trigger the start of the 21-day period during which the entire Knesset as a whole may select a candidate to form a government. The move was widely seen as intended to force Netanyahu and Gantz to stop dithering and seal a unity deal quickly amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Israel has been led by a caretaker government since December 2018, when the 20th Knesset dissolved. Since then, three consecutive elections have so far failed to yield a new government, creating an unprecedented political crisis.

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