Gantz to be tasked with forming government at official ceremony Wednesday

In second round of coalition talks, kingmaker party Yisrael Beytenu declines to endorse any candidate for PM, while Netanyahu’s right-wing allies reiterate their support for him

Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

President Reuven Rivlin will task Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz with forming a government on Wednesday evening, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced earlier this week he was unable to do so.

A statement from Rivlin’s office on Tuesday said the president will officially give Gantz the mandate to try and build a Knesset majority after his chief of staff completed a second round of consultations with representatives of all Knesset parties.

The two will sign a document establishing the appointment at 8 p.m. and make statements.

Along with his new status as prospective prime minister, Gantz this week will receive a security detail from the state.

Earlier Tuesday, the secular right-wing Yisrael Beytenu party said it would not be endorsing anyone for prime minister in the second round of coalition talks, while Netanyahu’s allies reiterated their support for the prime minister.

Netanyahu announced Monday that he had failed to form a majority government in the Knesset, marking a major setback for the embattled prime minister that plunges the country into a new period of political uncertainty.

Facing a Wednesday deadline, Netanyahu said he was returning the mandate to form a government to Rivlin, blaming his failure on Gantz, Blue and White deputy head Yair Lapid, and Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman.

Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz delivers a statement in Tel Aviv, September 26, 2019. (Avshalom Shoshoni/Flash90)

Liberman on Tuesday accused the prime minister of “acting only from a personal motive” in negotiations to form a coalition.

“He doesn’t care about the State of Israel. Israel’s interest is to prevent a third election and to form a wide liberal national government. Netanyahu is preventing this due to a personal agenda only, and dragging all of Likud after him,” Liberman told the Ynet news site.

Netanyahu was initially tasked by Rivlin with trying to form a government based on the strength of his pact with right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties to negotiate as a bloc of 55 MKs after September 17’s inconclusive elections (Likud: 32; Shas: 9; United Torah Judaism: 7 and Yamina 7). Gantz heads a bloc of 54 MKs from the center, left and Arab parties (Blue and White: 33; Labor-Gesher: 6; Democratic Camp 5; and 10 out of 13 MKs from the mainly Arab Joint List).

Liberman is not in either bloc and has called for a secular unity government comprising Likud, Blue and White and his own party. But Netanyahu has refused to abandon his traditional ultra-Orthodox partners Shas and United Torah Judaism. And Gantz has so far refused to partner with Likud so long as Netanyahu is facing possible indictment in three corruption cases.

Netanyahu had hoped to form a broad unity government with Gantz, but he insisted that his coalition include his right-wing and ultra-Orthodox allies, drawing accusations from Blue and White that he was not negotiating in good faith.

After the Knesset was sworn in Yamina broke up into two factions: New Right, lead by Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, and Jewish Home-National Union, led by Rabbi Rafi Peretz and Bezalel Smotrich.

Channel 12 news reported Tuesday that Gantz had reached out to Peretz and told him he would like him to be part of his coalition, but without Smotrich. Peretz was reported to respond that this was not an option.

Despite his failure to form a majority government for the second time, the 55-strong bloc said they remained firmly behind their endorsement of Netanyahu for prime minister.

In a letter to Rivlin, UTJ head Yaakov Litzman told Rivlin the bloc’s endorsement of Netanyahu remained unchanged, and underscored their support for him as prime minister.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is hosted by Minister of Health Yaakov Litzman of the United Torah Judaism party (left), at a meal to celebrate the birth of Litzman’s grandson, June 18, 2017. (Shlomi Cohen/FLASH90)

“This stance of ours has not changed,” Litzman said. “This is in accordance with the position of all right-wing factions which together number 55 representatives who are united as a bloc.

New Right’s Shaked echoed the sentiment, tweeting that while her party was willing to meet with Gantz’s team, it would not hold negotiations independent of the pro-Netanyahu bloc.

“If we are invited to a meeting with Gantz, of course we’ll come but we will make it clear to Gantz that he is wasting time and would better start negotiating with the bloc’s representatives,” Shaked wrote.

Speaking to reporters outside his home Tuesday morning, Gantz said he was optimistic about his chances of forming a government.

“The feeling is terrific,” a cheerful Gantz told reporters in his car, as he left his home in Rosh Ha’ayin. “We finished a morning workout and will now go for the day’s work. Everything is okay. We are always optimistic; it is a way of life.”

Yisrael Beytenu chairman MK Avigdor Liberman speaks at a faction meeting at Neve Ilan west of Jerusalem, September 22, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

However, without Likud Gantz is seen as having an even slimmer chance than Netanyahu of forming a coalition.

If Gantz fails during his 28-day window, a majority of lawmakers could try to endorse a third candidate, something that has never happened before in Israel. And if that fails, the country would be forced into the unprecedented scenario of a third election in under a year.

AP contributed to this report.

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