Rivlin meets party leaders as coalition chances fade
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Rivlin meets party leaders as coalition chances fade

President sits down with representatives of Blue and White, Joint List and UTJ, possibly in preparation for last 21 days before new elections will likely be called

(R-L) Joint List MK Mtanes Shihadeh, President Reuven Rivlin and Joint List MKs Ayman Odeh, Mansour Abbas and Ahmad Tibi during a meeting at the President's Residence in Jerusalem on November 20, 2019. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)
(R-L) Joint List MK Mtanes Shihadeh, President Reuven Rivlin and Joint List MKs Ayman Odeh, Mansour Abbas and Ahmad Tibi during a meeting at the President's Residence in Jerusalem on November 20, 2019. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

President Reuven Rivlin on Wednesday held meetings with members of various political parties ahead of the midnight deadline facing Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz to form a coalition, who seems all but doomed to fail.

After meeting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Democratic Camp head Nitzan Horowitz on Tuesday night, the president met with Blue and White MK Moshe Ya’alon, Joint List leaders Ayman Odeh and Ahmad Tibi, United Torah Judaism leaders Yaakov Litzman and Moshe Gafni, New Right’s Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, and Shas leader Aryeh Deri.

The talks appeared unlikely to produce a last-minute coalition deal before Gantz’s time runs out, and were likely geared toward the next stage — 21 days during which any 61 of the 120 Knesset members can back any MK as prime minister. If that doesn’t happen, Israel will go to unprecedented third elections in under a year.

In a dramatic announcement Wednesday after unity talks broke down, Yisrael Beytenu chair Avigdor Liberman announced that he would not support either a minority government headed by Gantz or a right-wing government headed by Netanyahu, signaling new elections.

This combination picture shows Benny Gantz (R), leader of the Blue and White political alliance, waving to supporters in Tel Aviv early on September 18, 2019, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressing supporters at his Likud party’s electoral campaign headquarters in Tel Aviv early on September 18, 2019. (Emmanuel Dunand and Menahem Kahana / AFP)

“There is no chance. We will not join either a narrow right- or left-wing government or a minority government. Whatever sort of government that would be, it would not survive and would not be able to function to do what is needed for the country,” Liberman told the packed Yisrael Beytenu faction room in the Knesset.

Netanyahu and Gantz traded accusations late Tuesday night in statements issued shortly after the conclusion of a one-hour meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, in which efforts for a unity government appeared to hit a dead end.

Ya’alon said after his meeting with Rivlin that he said the “only” government acceptable for his party was a unity government with Likud headed by Blue and White, “especially after it became clear in our talks with Likud that their interpretation of the president’s proposal was nowhere near his intention.

“What interests Netanyahu is his own escape from the defendants’ bench,” Ya’alon added, referring to three corruption cases against the premier in which charges are expected to be announced within days. “Blue and White was formed to get Israel back on track, not to lend a hand to the person who has brought it to this leadership crisis. I thanked the president for his efforts to promote unity in Israel.”

President Reuven Rivlin (R) and Blue and White MK Moshe Ya’alon meeting at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on November 20, 2019. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Odeh said after his meeting that he and Tibi “emphasized that as far as we’re concerned, all the options that would promote peace and equality are on the table, but if it will come to it we are prepared for third elections.

“We don’t want more elections but if we are dragged to them we will continue gaining power and will do everything to prevent Netanyahu from forming the next government.”

Rivlin also held a meeting with Foreign Minister Israel Katz (Likud), which hadn’t been announced on the president’s schedule. It was held behind closed doors and the President’s Resident refused to say whether it concerned coalition negotiations.

Raoul Wootliff and Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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