Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed to a compromise power sharing deal with Benny Gantz that was proposed by President Reuven Rivlin, but the Blue and White leader refused it, the Haaretz daily reported late Wednesday.
The report, which was not sourced, said that after Netanyahu agreed, Gantz debated the idea but ultimately rejected it. The report described the proposal accepted by Netanyahu but rejected by Gantz as amounting to a situation in which the two men “would serve as prime minister simultaneously.” However, Rivlin in public on Wednesday did not specify such an arrangement. Rather, the president said he had proposed a “paritetic” unity government in which all responsibilities would be equally divided, and arrangements by which an “interim prime minister” would enjoy all prime ministerial authority if the prime minister was forced to take a leave of absence.
Following the breakdown of two days of talks brokered by Rivlin, the president gave Netanyahu the mandate to try to form a coalition.
Rivlin publicly laid out elements of the compromise he had suggested in his closed-door talks with the rival candidates, saying that he had proposed to Gantz and Netanyahu a legal change to the position of “interim prime minister” that would grant the office holder “full power” in the case the prime minister cannot carry out his duties.
“As long as the prime minister is unavailable, his role will be preserved and he will return to it when he is able to. That was my proposal and that is what I suggest,” Rivlin said.
Such a change could theoretically allow Netanyahu to take a leave of absence if he is formally charged in the trio of graft cases against him, enabling Gantz to avoid serving in a government with a prime minister who is under indictment. Netanyahu is facing a hearing next week with the attorney general, ahead of a decision in the cases against him.
The president also proposed extending the period for which a prime minister could take leave without surrendering his job beyond the current 100 day maximum. And he said he had suggested a “paritetic” government arrangement, under which all government authority would be equally distributed between the two rival parties.
After Rivlin tasked Netanyahu with forming a coalition, Gantz again ruled out his Blue and White alliance joining a government led by a prime minister facing serious criminal charges.
“Blue and White led by me will not agree to sit in a government with a leader facing a severe indictment,” Gantz said late Wednesday.
Netanyahu is facing an indictment, pending a hearing next week, in three corruption cases, one of which also includes a count of bribery. He denies all the charges.
Explaining his decision to pick Netanyahu, Rivlin said that though neither the Likud head nor Gantz had the support of a majority of lawmakers, the premier still had a better shot at forming a government.
“For me the only question is who has the best possibility to form a coalition. In this situation, 55 MKs supported Netanyahu and 54 supported Gantz. But 10 of those from the Joint List said they would not sit with Gantz, whereas the full bloc of 55 said they would support Netanyahu,” Rivlin said, standing alongside Netanyahu at his official residence.
Rivlin said he conditioned giving the mandate to form a government on the candidate agreeing to return it if he fails to muster a majority. After failing to form a government following the elections in April, Netanyahu pushed through a vote to dissolve the Knesset and call a snap poll, rather than allow Gantz to get a crack at building a coalition.
Rivlin twice stressed in his speech Wednesday that Israelis do not want a third round of elections, saying “the public will pay the price” of a failure by Netanyahu and Gantz to find common ground.