A meeting Sunday between negotiators of the Blue and White party and the Likud party on a potential unity government ended without any breakthroughs that would prevent the country from holding a third round of elections within months.
A Blue and White source told the Ynet website that the country is “hurtling towards elections.” And a party source told Channel 12 news that Likud was “refusing to give up the bloc,” in reference to the 55-MK bloc of right-wing and religious parties that have vowed to negotiate as a single unit.
In an official statement Blue and White said the meeting was amicable but “the gaps between both sides remain significant.”
Another meeting may be held later in the week, Blue and White said.
In a later statement Likud blamed Blue and White No. 2 Mk Yair Lapid for preventing progress towards a unity government, as it has done on numerous occasions recently.
“Likud agreed to sweeping concessions, but Yair Lapid is still making every effort to thwart a unity government. If Lapid stops sabotaging the efforts for unity, there is still a real possibility to prevent elections and set up a unity government,” the party claimed.
Lapid swiftly responded tweeting that Likud was “lying” and claiming the party was “not compromising on anything” in talks.
According to reports, on the table is an offer from Likud to allow Netanyahu to stay on as prime minister for some 4-6 months, after which he would step aside and allow Gantz to take the job.
While Gantz is mulling the offer, Lapid is stridently against it, Channel 13 news reported.
According to the station, Netanyahu, in closed talks, said he offered Gantz a premiership rotation agreement, under which he would serve as prime minister for up to six months before vacating the position for the Blue and White leader.
Netanyahu said he promised to leave office “without tricks or funny business,” but claimed Lapid was preventing a deal. The prime minister reportedly said he wants to remain as leader in the coming months due to “expected diplomatic developments” which the station assessed as being a reference to negotiations for a mutual defense pact between Israel and the US.
Channel 12 also reported the Likud leader’s offer. It said Blue and White raised the possibility that Lapid’s Yesh Atid faction in the Blue and White alliance would not enter the coalition until after Netanyahu departs, should Gantz take up the offer.
According to the report the Blue and White leadership is divided on whether or not it can trust Likud to keep to the proposed rotation deal. However the report also noted that another major stumbling block unrelated to the question of who serves as prime minister first is Netanyahu’s insistence on a government that includes the rest of his bloc.
Netanyahu is also believed to be insisting on having first turn as prime minister in order to have time to obtain Knesset immunity before charges are filed against him in three corruption cases in which he is suspected of fraud, breach of trust, and bribery in one of the cases.
The coalition talks, held in the Knesset, were called by Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein who is making last ditch efforts to get parties to agree on establishing a coalition government.
In addition to participating in the meeting between Blue and White and his own Likud party, Edelstein also met with the leaders of the Yisrael Beytenu party, United Torah Judaism, and Shas.
The Knesset is currently in an unprecedented period of political uncertainty following two elections that have failed to show a clear winner, leading to several unsuccessful rounds of coalition talks by both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who leads Likud, and Blue and White chief MK Benny Gantz. Netanyahu and Gantz did not attend the meetings Sunday.
The 120-seat parliament has until December 11 to see if any of its members can collect 61 signatures and thus be given two weeks to attempt to form a government, before it must by law dissolve itself and call new elections, likely for March 2020, in what would be the third national vote in less than a year.
Both Likud and Blue and White raced to gather signatures from lawmakers Sunday, though it quickly became apparent that getting the required 61 signatures would probably only be possible next week.
Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman has pledged to give his party’s signatures to both parties if they each make the request, Hebrew-language media has reported. Lawmakers are allowed to sign for more than one candidate, although it is not clear how the president will decide whom to task with forming a coalition if two candidates reach 61 signatures at the same time.
The backing of Yisrael Beytenu’s eight lawmakers would push Netanyahu’s Likud-led right-religious bloc over the 61-signature mark, giving Netanyahu a third chance at negotiating a government in under a year. It could also hand Gantz a majority along with left-wing parties, but he would likely need the support of either the Arab-led Joint List or defectors from the Netanyahu camp to gain enough support, even with Liberman’s backing.
A form sent to members of the 55-strong right-wing bloc on Saturday night asked them to sign a short statement backing Netanyahu and submit it by 9 a.m. Sunday, according to reports in Hebrew-language media.
However, reports Sunday quoted Yisrael Beytenu sources as saying the party would only sign their support closer to the December 11 deadline — possibly on the very last day — in order to allow more time for unity government negotiations, which suggests that the current signature frenzy is premature.
Further supporting that thesis, National Union leader Bezalel Smotrich — normally a staunch Netanyahu ally — said he would only sign support for Netanyahu on the last day for doing so and only if it is clear that the premier has a clear path to forming a government, Hebrew-language media reported.
New Right’s Ayelet Shaked has also reportedly refused to provide her signature, saying that was pointless before Liberman signs. Shas leader Aryeh Deri said there was “no point” in signing, saying there was no reason to play into Liberman’s “spin.”
Michael Bachner contributed to this report.