Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday reiterated his call for MK Benny Gantz, leader of the rival Blue and White party, to join him in talks for a last push to establish a unity government and avert a third round of elections in under a year.
“It is important to me to make one thing clear — I am taking up the challenge and proposing to him: immediate personal negotiations, you and me, without preconditions,” Netanyahu tweeted, a day after Gantz said he had failed to form a coalition and as Israel enters a final 21-day period in which the Knesset will try to resolve the deadlock or trigger elections.
“We can overcome the dispute. The county is important to all of us! We must make a last, joint effort to establish a unity government,” said the prime minister who, like his rivals, is eager to avoid being seen as having caused another round of elections. He made a similar appeal to Gantz on Wednesday night.
With neither side indicating they are willing to back down from their demands in previous negotiations, further talks seem unlikely to resolve the deadlock.
The political impasse has left the country without an elected government for nearly a year. Two rounds of elections gave neither Netanyahu’s Likud party nor Blue and White enough seats to form a majority with allied parties in the 120-seat Knesset. After the last vote in September, Netanyahu and then Gantz tried to form a coalition but were unable to bridge the divide between the two blocs they lead.
President Reuven Rivlin himself had urged both leaders to form a unity government of Blue and White and Likud. He suggested a power-sharing agreement whereby, he indicated, Netanyahu would take a leave of absence if he is indicted in the three corruption cases against him. The attorney general is expected to announce charges against Netanyahu in the coming days.
But talks broke down over who would serve as prime minister first, Netanyahu’s insistence on negotiating on behalf of a bloc of 55 right-wing and religious lawmakers who backed him, and Gantz’s refusal to serve under a prime minister facing criminal charges.
Netanyahu, who was given first try to form a government, admitted defeat in October and the mandate was passed to Gantz. On Wednesday the Blue and White leader informed President Reuven Rivlin that he too had failed to establish a coalition and was giving up the task.
Rivlin’s office then said the president would inform Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein on Thursday that parliament was entering, for the first time ever, a specially designated 21-day grace period in which any member of the Knesset will have the opportunity to become prime minister.
During this time, any 61 of the Knesset’s 120 MKs — an absolute majority — may ask Rivlin to appoint as potential prime minister any member of Knesset who agrees to take on the role. That person then has 14 days to cobble together a coalition.
That includes those who have already failed to do so in previous rounds, according to Article 10 of Israel’s Basic Law: The Government, so Netanyahu and Gantz are both still in the running.
If no MK collects 61 supporters within the 21 days, the 22nd Knesset must be dissolved and Israel will find itself headed to its third election in the span of a year.
The grace period became inevitable after Yisrael Beytenu party leader MK Avigdor Liberman declared Wednesday that he would not support either Netanyahu or Gantz, as neither would accept his demand that they form a secular unity government. Yisrael Beytenu won eight seats in the last Knesset, positioning Liberman as the kingmaker.
According to a Channel 12 TV news report on Wednesday, Gantz has said his partnership with party No. 2 MK Yair Lapid reduced the chances of a unity government with Likud.
“Because of Lapid, the chances of unity dropped,” Gantz was quoted by the station as telling associates on Wednesday on two occasions, without elaborating.
The Blue and White leader also said that the right-wing flank of his party had thwarted a bid to form a minority government bolstered by the predominantly Arab Joint List, Channel 12 reported.