President Reuven Rivlin received the official results of the March 2 elections on Wednesday and called on the two leading contenders to join forces in a unity government.
He expressed the hope that “the 23rd Knesset will last longer than its predecessors, and that the president who stands here to receive the results of the elections to the 24th Knesset will be someone else.” Rivlin’s seven-year term concludes in summer 2021.
He also appeared to criticize right-wing warnings about political cooperation with the Arab-majority Joint List, saying, “In the State of Israel, there are no half-citizens.”
At a ceremony of the President’s House in Jerusalem, Rivlin was handed the official results by the head of the Central Elections Committee, Supreme Court Justice Neal Hendel.
“This is the fourth time I have received the results of elections to the Knesset, and the third time we are meeting here in the space of 11 months,” he said, calling elections times in which “disagreements and differences between us are highlighted, in which the broad consensus is marginalized and everything becomes political.”
Many Israelis “are looking to us with the hope that answers will come from this house,” he said, addressing Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz and Likud head Benjamin Netanyahu.
“This house, and I personally, are at your disposal for any serious and genuine conversation you may wish to hold. Any agreement you are able to come to that produces a stable government that gains the trust of the people will be welcomed.”
He reiterated his proposal after the September race for a unity government with Gantz and Netanyahu in a rotation for the premiership and responsibilities shared equally between their parties and, as appropriate, allies.
“You have the framework I offered at the last elections. I am certainly aware of the criticism of the outline that I presented then, and agree with much of it. But I did not believe there was another way and, even today, the situation has not changed a great deal.”
Neither Netanyahu’s Likud nor Blue and White mustered a majority of Knesset seats in last Monday’s election, and neither has a clear path to a majority coalition. The prime minister has the backing of 58 MKs and Likud is the largest party in the 120-seat Knesset.
Gantz, meanwhile, has been working to swiftly put together a minority government with the backing of the Joint List and not use the entire period allotted to form a government to negotiate a unity deal with Likud, the Haaretz daily reported Tuesday.
Citing a source familiar with Gantz’s plans, the report said he would set March 23 as a deadline to present for approval by the Knesset a government made up of Blue and White (33 seats), the hawkish Yisrael Beytenu (7 seats) and dovish Labor-Gesher-Meretz (7 seats), with most or all of the Arab lawmakers of the Joint List (15 seats) giving their backing from outside the coalition.
Likud has attempted to portray the Joint List as out of bounds of Israeli politics, terming its members “terror supporters” and citing their opposition to Zionism and some extreme anti-Israel stances by members of Balad, one of the party’s constituent factions.
Such a coalition, while “not the government we wanted,” is the only way to break the year-long political impasse, Blue and White No. 2 Yair Lapid argued in a Facebook post.
Such a bid remains a long-shot effort, however, as some of the more rightist members of Gantz’s party have openly rejected it and vowed to oppose it, and it remains unclear whether the Joint List and Blue and White could reach an agreement. One of the demands previously raised by the Arab alliance has been Gantz’s rejection of US President Donald Trump administration’s peace plan, which the former army chief of staff has endorsed.
On Tuesday, Labor-Gesher-Meretz No. 2 MK Orly Levy-Abekasis said she opposed a minority government backed by the Arab parties, and announced she was no longer beholden to her left-wing political partners.