Kicking off unity bid, Rivlin invites Netanyahu and Gantz to meet

After receiving 55 recommendations to Blue and White chair’s 54, PM says ‘broad unity government’ the only option

Raoul Wootliff is a former Times of Israel political correspondent and Daily Briefing podcast producer.

President Reuven Rivlin at the President's Residence in Jerusalem on September 23, 2019, after holding consultation meetings with political leaders to decide whom to task with trying to form a new government. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
President Reuven Rivlin at the President's Residence in Jerusalem on September 23, 2019, after holding consultation meetings with political leaders to decide whom to task with trying to form a new government. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

After completing meetings with party representatives to hear their recommendations as to who should form the next government, and with neither Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nor Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz receiving majority support in the new Knesset, President Reuven Rivlin on Monday issued an invitation for a meeting between the two in an attempt to move forward in the coalition-building process.

Netanyahu and Gantz both confirmed that they would attend the meeting, called for Monday evening.

Shortly after Rivlin’s appeal, Netanyahu, speaking at a Likud party faction meeting at the Knesset, said that “the only government that can be formed is a broad unity government” between his Likud and the centrist Blue and White.

Netanyahu, who received 55 MK recommendations to Gantz’s 54, made his own plea for Gantz to agree to a meeting “to achieve unity and compromise between the national camp headed by me… and the left-wing camp headed by Gantz.”

President Reuven Rivlin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, shake hands at the memorial ceremony for the late president Shimon Peres, at the Mount Herzl cemetery in Jerusalem, on September 19, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Gantz has so far rejected an invitation to meet with the prime minster “with no preconditions,” a call Netanyahu made immediately after signing an agreement according to which his Likud party and all the parties on the religious right agreed to only enter a coalition as a single unit and negotiate the terms of the new government together.

Netanyahu urged Gantz to form a national unity government under his leadership that includes all members of his religious right-wing bloc. The Blue and White leader rebuffed the offer, noting his party received more seats and should therefore lead such a coalition.

Gantz has insisted that Netanyahu, who is facing a looming criminal indictment, relinquish the premiership as a condition for a Blue and White-Likud alliance. Blue and White has also vowed to form a government without the ultra-Orthodox and “extremists.”

“A few days before Rosh Hashanah, I wish you all, all of the people Israel, a happy New Year. A year of security, prosperity and unity. Why unity? Because that is the order of the hour. This is also the clear order the public has given in this election,” Netanyahu said Monday.

“Let’s put things of the table: We wanted to form a right-wing government. Unfortunately, this was not possible because we were not given enough seats to do so. Gantz wanted to form a government from the other side. He did not receive enough seats to do so either. Therefore, the only government that can be formed is a broad unity government between us. The only way to reach such a government is to sit down and talk,” he continued.

“If we speak with an open mind and heart, we can form a good and broad government for Israel. This is what the people expect of us,” Netanyahu insisted.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a Likud party meeting at the Knesset, Israel’s parliament in Jerusalem on September 23, 2019. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

As it stands, neither Likud nor Blue and White has a path to a coalition without the other. In last Tuesday’s election, Blue and White emerged as the larger party, according to almost-final results, at 33 seats, while Likud won 31. Netanyahu heads a right-wing and ultra-Orthodox bloc of 55 MKs. Gantz heads a bloc of 44 centrist and left-wing MKs, along with 10 lawmakers from the predominantly Arab Joint List who in a rare move recommended him as prime minister on Sunday.

While 10 of the 13 Joint List lawmakers backed Gantz for prime minister — the three-member Balad faction refused to sign on — they have ruled out joining a coalition.

In the kingmaker position is Yisrael Beytenu — which has vowed to force a coalition with both Likud and Blue and White — with eight seats. It did not endorse either candidate for prime minister. Gantz was scheduled to meet Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman on Monday afternoon, before his meeting with Rivlin.

President Reuven Rivlin meets with Joint List members Ayman Odeh (3rd-R), Ahmad Tibi (2nd-R) and Mansour Abbas (R) during consultations on who should be tasked with forming the next government, at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on September 22, 2019. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

The president has the power to appoint one of the elected 120 MKs as the next potential prime minister of Israel. The designated premier must then attempt to cobble together a coalition that wins the support of a majority of Knesset members.

Once a candidate is chosen by the president, that individual has 28 days to present a coalition to the new Knesset and win a vote of confidence. The president is allowed to extend that period by up to 14 days.

If the candidate fails, the second most likely candidate is given a shot at forming a coalition. Should the second candidate fail, new elections are called, unless any of the 120 MKs musters the support of 61 lawmakers backing his leadership.

Rivlin is expected to make a decision later this week or early next week.

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