Likud is seeking to tempt Blue and White leader Benny Gantz into breaking up his alliance with Yair Lapid and joining a unity government with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Channel 12 news reported Thursday. Netanyahu has less than a week left to try to form a coalition.
According to the report, Likud believes Gantz is more open to joining Netanyahu in a coalition than his partner and No. 2, Yair Lapid.
The party has conveyed to Gantz that its offer of a power-sharing government, where the premiership would be rotated between Gantz and Netanyahu, will stand even if Gantz cannot bring his entire faction with him, the report added.
Blue and White is an alliance of three parties. Gantz’s own party, Israel Resilience, currently holds 15 Knesset seats, Lapid’s Yesh Atid has 13, while Moshe Ya’alon’s Telem has five.
The network noted that Gantz is loath to accept the offer, and during a Thursday phone call with Netanyahu refused outright an offer to meet privately for talks.
Channel 12 also reported that Netanyahu has told associates that if Gantz forms a minority government — backed from the outside by Yisrael Beytenu and the Joint List of Arab majority parties — he will not resign but stay on as leader of the opposition and try to topple the government as quickly as possible.
Recently, the Israel Hayom daily, widely seen as a mouthpiece for Netanyahu, has floated claims that Blue and White could seek to form such a minority government. Gantz has not indicated any such intention publicly.
On Thursday Netanyahu publicly extended a proposal to Blue and White to join a unity government that includes the premier’s Likud party and his allies on the religious right.
The proposal, made a week before the deadline for Netanyahu to form a coalition following September’s election, is based on the president’s plan for a power-sharing government. It would maintain the status quo on matters of religion and state for a year, while moving forward on a compromise for military conscription for the ultra-Orthodox — an issue that derailed efforts to form a government following April’s national vote.
“This is the only government that can be formed right now,” the prime minister said. “I call on Benny Gantz to show national responsibility and enter into immediate negotiations with me, to form alongside me the government that the State of Israel needs so much.”
The offer was quickly dismissed by Gantz as disingenuous, with the Blue and White leader saying Netanyahu “is not seeking unity but immunity.”
Gantz added: “We will wait to receive the mandate from the president and start serious negotiations to form a liberal unity government that will usher in change and bring back hope for Israel’s citizens.”
Netanyahu must form a coalition by October 24 or inform the president that he has failed to do so. By law, Rivlin could grant him a 14-day extension, but he is believed unlikely to do so, as the prospects of the premier making further progress in the current gridlock are seen as slim.
Rivlin would then need to task another Knesset member with attempting to form a government — with Gantz the likely next candidate, though he is seen as even less likely to succeed in forming a government.
Both Blue and White and Yisrael Beytenu have called for a unity government alongside Likud but without the religious parties. Gantz’s party has also called for Netanyahu to step down as head of Likud due to the indictment pending against him, saying it will not serve under a prime minister charged with criminal wrongdoing. Blue and White has said a unity government with Likud could be formed “within an hour” if Netanyahu steps down.
On Wednesday evening, Channel 12 reported that Gantz was warming up to the idea of serving in a coalition along with Netanyahu, despite having vowed not to do so during the election campaign.
According to the network, Gantz has been telling confidants that his party will “hold their noses for a number of months” and adopt Rivlin’s proposal for a power-sharing compromise.
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit is widely expected to decide by the end of the year whether to indict Netanyahu in three criminal cases, following the completion of the hearing process for the premier earlier this month.
If Rivlin’s proposal is adopted and Netanyahu is charged, Gantz would only have to serve under Netanyahu for a month or two before the Likud leader takes a leave of absence.
“At the end of the day, Netanyahu has an expiration date,” Channel 12 quoted Gantz as telling confidants.
Jacob Magid contributed to this report.
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