President: Despite Gaza conflict, no extension possible for would-be PM Gantz
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President: Despite Gaza conflict, no extension possible for would-be PM Gantz

With 7 days remaining for Blue and White leader to form government, Rivlin meets with Liberman, says he’s ‘available to the sides for any further clarification’ on his unity plan

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

President Reuven Rivlin (left) and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz attend a Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony at Kibbutz Yad Mordecha in southern Israel on May 2, 2019. (Flash90)
President Reuven Rivlin (left) and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz attend a Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony at Kibbutz Yad Mordecha in southern Israel on May 2, 2019. (Flash90)

President Reuven Rivlin cannot give Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz extra time to form a government, regardless of the ongoing security situation in Israel’s south, a spokesperson for the president told The Times of Israel on Wednesday.

Rivlin tasked Gantz with attempting to form a coalition after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed in the wake of the September 17 elections. He has until next Wednesday to do so. Gantz’s chances of succeeding where the prime minister failed appear to be slim, with Netanyahu’s bloc of supporting lawmakers from his Likud, right-wing and religious parties refusing to budge.

The Basic Law: The Government gives candidates chosen by the president 28 days to form a coalition. The first person to be chosen after an election can be granted an additional 14 days by the president, an option not open to the second candidate.

With the November 20 deadline to form a government just seven days away, and with Netanyahu saying the ensuing operation in Gaza “could take a long time,” Gantz could encounter difficulties in advancing coalition negotiations and reaching agreements with other parties.

The home of Palestinian Islamic Jihad commander Baha Abu Al-Ata after it was hit in an Israeli strike in Gaza City on November 12, 2019. (Hassan Jedi/Flash90)

Israel early on Tuesday morning killed a senior Palestinian Islamic Jihad commander in a targeted strike. Since then, at least 250 rockets have been launched at Israeli communities, while Israel has carried out several rounds of targeted strikes on targets in Gaza.

The security situation, beyond potentially limiting Gantz’s options to form a government, has already delayed his negotiations with potential coalition partners. Amid the ongoing rocket fire, Gantz chose to postpone his Tuesday meeting with Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman, pushing it off to Thursday.

Nonetheless, the president’s office said that according to the law, there is “no extension possible to the 28 days.”

Rivlin on Wednesday met with Liberman at the President’s Residence for a meeting requested by the Yisrael Beytenu chief to discuss the coalition negotiations.

A statement from the president following the meeting said the two had “an in-depth conversation regarding current challenges, including security matters and the current conflict” in Gaza.

“The two agreed that, in light of the weighty decisions that the Israeli government will face in the near future, it should be as stable and as broad as possible given, among other things, the security and economic situation, and that the two large parties should be the principal founding partners in such a government,” the statement said.

On Saturday night, Liberman presented an ultimatum to both Netanyahu and Gantz, saying that if one of them does not accept tough compromises in order to form a coalition together, he will back the candidate who does and renege on his pledge to only support a national unity government.

“Gantz must accept the president’s plan, including a leave of absence, and Netanyahu should say goodbye to his ultra-Orthodox messianic bloc,” Liberman told Channel 12 news.

Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman (L) and President Reuven Rivlin meet at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on November 13, 2019. (Mark Neiman/GPO)

In Wednesday’s meeting, Liberman and Rivlin “also discussed the outline proposed by the president to Netanyahu and Gantz which is based on a number of principles requiring a detailed agreement between the sides,” the president’s office said.

“The president repeated the details of the outline to MK Liberman as he had presented them to the public and emphasized that he was willing to be available to the sides for any further clarification, should that be necessary, to ensure the establishment of a government as soon as possible,” the statement concluded.

When tasking Netanyahu with forming a government at the end of September (before giving the mandate to Gantz after the prime minister failed), Rivlin said that he had proposed to the two 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 at the ceremony officially handing the mandate to form a government to Netanyahu.

President Reuven Rivlin (R) tasks Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with forming a new government, during a press conference at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on September 25, 2019. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

Since then, Netanyahu and his Likud negotiators have repeatedly said they are willing to accept Rivlin’s power-sharing plan and have accused Blue and White of preventing the formation of a government due to its rejection of the proposal.

Such a change could theoretically allow Netanyahu to take a leave of absence if he is formally charged in the trio of graft cases currently pending against him, and enable Gantz to avoid serving in a government with a prime minister who is under indictment. At the same time, Rivlin also proposed lengthening the period for which a prime minister could take leave without surrendering his job beyond the current 100-day maximum.

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