With unity talks stalled, Blue and White discusses economy with Labor-Gesher

As Gantz blasts Netanyahu for impeding coalition deal, centrist party’s negotiators see ‘progress’ in meeting with Labor on future government’s policies

Chairman of the Labor-Gesher party Amir Peretz speaks at a faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, October 28, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Chairman of the Labor-Gesher party Amir Peretz speaks at a faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, October 28, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

As Blue and White once again accused Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu of stymieing unity talks, the centrist party continued its coalition talks with potential left-wing partners on Tuesday.

The party’s negotiators met with Labor-Gesher’s negotiating team, saying the sides made “progress” toward a coalition agreement.

“The meeting was upbeat, serious and in-depth, and saw progress toward the next government’s guiding principles,” a joint statement from both parties said Tuesday.

The talks “emphasized economic and social issues” that made up the bulk of Labor-Gesher’s campaign, including increases to the minimum wage and stiffer labor protections.

The teams will meet again “in the coming days,” the statement said.

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz (3rd from left) and party No. 2 Yair Lapid (2nd from left) join coalition talks with Likud,’s Yariv Levin (far right) and Ze’ev Elkin (2nd right) Kfar Maccabiah, October 31, 2019 (Courtesy)

Earlier Tuesday, Blue and White’s chairman Benny Gantz launched a fresh attack on Netanyahu, saying the prime minister’s refusal to compromise on any of his demands in the coalition talks will force the country to a third election in under a year.

In a tweet, Gantz said Netanyahu was preventing a Blue and White-Likud unity government from being formed by refusing to abandon his 55-seat bloc of right-wing and Haredi allies, which — Gantz accused — were vital to ensuring his immunity from prosecution in three corruption cases.

“Netanyahu isn’t willing to give up his bloc. Netanyahu isn’t willing to give up his immunity,” Gantz tweeted. “Netanyahu isn’t willing to discuss the guidelines for a unity government.”

He charged that “Netanyahu wants to drag Israel to a third election. I will do everything to prevent that. I will do everything to form a government.”

President Reuven Rivlin last month tasked Gantz with attempting to form a coalition, after Netanyahu failed in the wake of the September 17 elections. But Gantz’s chances of succeeding where the prime minister failed may be just as slim, as Netanyahu’s 55-seat bloc has so far held firm.

Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz (L) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meet at IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv, on October 27, 2019. (Elad Malka)

Gantz, who is believed to prefer a coalition based on his party and Likud, and including leftist Labor-Gesher and Democratic Camp over the far-right backers of Netanyahu, has repeatedly called for a unity government without Likud’s allied bloc. Likud has refused to negotiate separately from the bloc.

Gantz’s criticism came as a report Tuesday on the Globes website claimed there had in fact been progress in negotiations for a unity government.

“There won’t be third elections, and the government that will be formed will be a unity government,” the report quoted an anonymous official as saying.

However, the official added that there was a danger that those who oppose a compromise could still sabotage the deal or that even if it is formed it will have to survive constant friction in the broad-based coalition.

The report said the real Blue and White-Likud negotiations weren’t taking place during the public meetings announced to the press, but through a back channel that has been operating almost since the elections.

Blue and White party chairmen Benny Gantz speaks at a rally marking 24 years since the assassination of late Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, at Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square on November 2, 2019. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

It said that while several key issues have not yet been resolved, there have been agreements on principal issues. The report said Gantz and most of his party co-leaders have agreed to a power-sharing mechanism in which would see Netanyahu serve first as prime minister but go on a leave of absence once he is charged. Gantz would then be interim prime minister until Netanyahu’s two years are up, and would then take over the full-time job.

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