Rivlin unlikely to grant Netanyahu more time to form government: report

Mandate to scrape together Knesset majority likely to pass to Blue and White chief Benny Gantz in less than two weeks, unsourced TV report says

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a press statement in the Knesset on September 15, 2019, a few days before the Israeli elections. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a press statement in the Knesset on September 15, 2019, a few days before the Israeli elections. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

President Reuven Rivlin is not expected to grant Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu additional time to form a governing coalition and will likely pass the mandate to Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz, Channel 12 News reported on Friday.

As of Friday, Netanyahu had 12 days left to try to scrape together a Knesset majority after Rivlin tasked him with forming a government on September 25. If Netanyahu fails, Gantz will then be granted 28 days to try himself, the unsourced report said.

Rivlin has the option of extending Netanyahu’s mandate by 14 days, which he did after the previous round of elections in April.

Shortly after Rivlin tasked him with forming a Knesset majority, Netanyahu said he was considering returning the mandate, but has not done so. He may be hoping to take advantage of developments in his hearings with Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, if, for example, the bribery charge against him is reduced to breach of trust, the report said.

Despite his legal woes — he is facing pending corruption charges in three cases — Netanyahu was tasked by Rivlin with trying to form a government based on the strength of his pact with right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties to negotiate as a bloc of 55 MKs. Gantz heads a bloc of 54 MKs from the center, left and Arab parties, but the 10 Arab MKs in that group would not join a Gantz-led coalition. Neither candidate has a clear path to a 61-strong Knesset majority without the other.

Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz delivers a statement in Tel Aviv, September 26, 2019. (Avshalom Shoshoni/Flash90)

Talks between Netanyahu’s Likud party and Blue and White aimed at forming a unity government have gone nowhere.

On Thursday sources from both Blue and White and Likud denounced Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman’s plan, unveiled the previous night, to form a unity government, calling his proposal an unrealistic, feeble attempt to break the ongoing deadlock in talks.

Officials from both parties told The Times of Israel that Liberman’s “unity plan” — which would involve Gantz giving up on going first in a rotation deal for the premiership and Netanyahu giving up his bloc of right-wing parties — states the obvious without offering any new ideas.

“We know what the sticking points are; we don’t need Liberman to tell us,” one MK from Blue and White said. “It’s useless to say these are the issues that need to be resolved. You need to come up with creative solutions if you really want to solve anything.”

Another Blue and White party official speculated that the purpose of the Yisrael Beytenu chief’s proposal was “to remind people that he’s here” — not to help the two sides reach an agreement.

“He wants to help one person: Avigdor Liberman. If he were serious then he would present something serious,” they said.

Yisrael Beytenu chairman MK Avigdor Liberman speaks at a faction meeting at Neve Ilan west of Jerusalem, September 22, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Likud officials, who have insisted that the party also represent the right-wing parties, minus Yisrael Beytenu, and ultra-Orthodox factions in negotiations – were similarly unimpressed.

“The issue is not that we are negotiating as a bloc,” one Likud official said. “The issue is that [Blue and White] won’t accept Netanyahu.”

In a post on Facebook Wednesday night, Liberman suggested that as a first step, representatives of the two major parties plus his own get together to hash out the guiding principles of a future unity government.

“First and foremost we have to clearly define all the issues on the agenda — security, economy, social and church and state,” he wrote.

Liberman said that should such an agreement be reached, they should then adopt President Reuven Rivlin’s proposal for a power-sharing compromise.

Rivlin had suggested a unity government in which power would be equally divided and Netanyahu and Gantz would each serve two years as prime minister. Rivlin implied, but did not specify, that Netanyahu would take an open-ended leave of absence if he is indicted in one or more of the probes in which he faces charges. Under the arrangement set out by Rivlin, Gantz, as “interim prime minister” in such a scenario, would enjoy all prime ministerial authority.

Presidenet Reuven Rivlin arrives for the swearing-in of the 22nd Knesset on October 3, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

A third stage proposed by Liberman would see the new government pass the budget and a multi-year defense plan.

It would then, in the fourth stage, allow other parties to join the coalition if they agreed to the government’s guiding principles, Liberman said.

Liberman insisted that his party would not join a narrow right-wing or center-left government.

The Likud party immediately rejected Liberman’s proposal, saying he had “not brought anything new,” while Blue and White welcomed it in an official statement, saying it saw his party as a prospective coalition partner, though by the next morning MKs were decidedly less enthusiastic.

Likud and Blue and White have accused each other of intransigence in the coalition talks and claimed that the other side was pushing the country toward an unprecedented third election in under a year.

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