Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz will meet President Reuven Rivlin Saturday evening, four days before his deadline to form a government expires, accusing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of deliberately torpedoing talks.
A statement Friday from the President’s Residence said the meeting was scheduled at Gantz’s request and “following conversations between the president and a wide range of political figures regarding the establishment of a government as soon as possible.”
Gantz has until November 20 to form a government.
He asked to meet Rivlin “to discuss the challenges of forming a government and to seek his advice,” according to a statement on Gantz’s Facebook page.
With five days remaining, Gantz reiterated his commitment to assembling a “broad liberal unity government,” but said he remained open to alternatives.
Gantz was tasked last month by Rivlin with putting together a coalition after Netanyahu failed to do so following elections in September, which left both Blue and White and the premier’s Likud short of a governing majority with their respective allies.
Unity talks have floundered over Netanyahu and his right-wing religious partners’ insistence on negotiating as a joint bloc, a condition rejected by Blue and White, and Gantz’s ruling out of sitting in a government with the Likud leader as he faces corruption charges.
Gantz met Thursday with Avigdor Liberman, whose Yisrael Beytenu party holds the balance of power in the Knesset. Liberman, a right-wing secularist, campaigned on forcing a unity government between Likud and Blue and White that does not include ultra-Orthodox or “messianist” parties if neither could form a government without him after the September 17 vote.
“I really admire Liberman’s adherence to his principles and his desire to form a unity government that I’m also working to establish,” Gantz said in the statement.
Gantz said he hoped to reach an agreement by next week to avoid “unnecessary and costly elections” and blamed Netanyahu for the political impasse.
“Apparently Netanyahu’s fervor to earn a few more months in the prime minister’s seat burns within him more than concern for Israeli citizens,” Gantz said. “Netanyahu wants elections. Otherwise it impossible to explain his conduct.”
Gantz accused Netanyahu of twice seeking and failing to secure immunity in a series of graft cases — first in coalition talks following elections in April and then by calling a fresh vote in a bid to obtain a majority at the polls.
“He’ll try in the future and fail again,” Gantz said.
The Blue and White leader called on Likud’s right-wing allies not to let Netanyahu “drag” the country to a third round of elections in less than a year.
“Release Netanyahu from his obligation to the bloc and allow him to conduct direct negotiations,” Gantz said, adding the parties could later join a Blue and White-Likud government if they accept its governing principles.
Gantz also cast doubt on Netanyahu’s ability to function full-time as prime minister if indicted.
“Put Israel before everything, come to quick negotiations without the immunity bloc and we’ll be ready for compromises that meet our principles,” he said.
Hitting back, Likud called on Blue and White No. 2 Yair Lapid “to release Gantz from his obligation to the bloc.” The leaders of Blue and White — composed of Gantz’s Israel Resilience party, Lapid’s Yesh Atid and Moshe Ya’alon’s Telem — have reportedly been at odds whether to join a unity government with Netanyahu.
New Right also rejected Gantz’s call to part ways with Netanyahu.
“We won’t dismantle the bloc. Any attempt of yours to divide us will fail,” the party said in a statement.
In addition to meeting Rivlin Saturday, Gantz was expected to meet again with Liberman next week. Netanyahu has invited Liberman for talks on Sunday.
Last weekend, Liberman called on Netanyahu to put aside his negotiating bloc and for Gantz to accept Rivlin’s unity proposal, saying he would enable whichever of them accepted his conditions to form a government.
After meeting Gantz, Liberman hinted at disagreements at the top of Blue and White, saying that all leaders from the party must announce they accept the unity plan, which would allow Netanyahu to serve as prime minister but temporarily step aside if indicted.
“From Netanyahu we heard clearly ‘no’ — he will not accept the full plan as I proposed. Here I didn’t hear no, but I also didn’t hear yes in a positive way. It’s sorely missing,” Liberman said.
According to a Channel 13 report Thursday, Rivlin’s unity coalition proposal stalled when Netanyahu wouldn’t commit to not seek parliamentary immunity from his corruption investigations.
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit is expected to announce whether he will indict Netanyahu, who denies any wrongdoing and has claimed the investigations are an effort by political rivals, the media, prosecutors and law enforcement to remove him from office.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.