Mandate given to Israeli parliament speaker Benny Gantz to form a government expired on Wednesday, but talks were reportedly ongoing on an emergency alliance with his rival, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Reuven Rivlin is expected to initiate a three-week period in which any Knesset member can form a government, and if none do, Israel would go to a fourth election.
Gantz’s mandate to form a government ends
Unlike the last time the mandate ran out on Monday night, when Gantz and Netanyahu jointly asked for more time, this time, neither did. Their negotiating teams remained at the prime minister’s Jerusalem residence passed midnight, but Gantz not joining the talks was seen as a sign they were not going well.
Progress was made in talks on Monday night and Tuesday, reportedly including a concession by Blue and White leader Benny Gantz to the Likud’s demand that the Knesset would be dissolved if the High Court Of Justice rules that Netanyahu cannot form a government.
But Netanyahu is now reportedly concerned about what may happen when his rotation period as prime minister ends after a year and a half, and Gantz’s begins, with the former becoming deputy prime minister.
The position of deputy prime minister is akin to that of any other minister, and regular government ministers are required to resign if under indictment, as Netanyahu currently is.
The Likud is therefore demanding legislation to amend the Basic Law: Government that would prevent such an eventuality, something which Blue and White sees as efforts to circumvent the High Court which it is reticent to do.
Kan News reported Wednesday night that Blue and White sources were insisting that “we will not let Netanyahu turn the coalition agreement into an immunity [from prosecution] agreement.”
Likud is also demanding that the position of foreign minister remains in its hands, while Blue and White is seeking a substantial ministerial portfolio in return for such a concession.
Another problematic aspect of the agreement is a legislative mechanism which would guarantee that Gantz would serve as prime minister once Netanyahu’s period ends after 18 months.
The Likud is now worried about this legislation however and is disputing how they should be implemented.
Gantz’s reported concession to allow new elections if the High Court rules Netanyahu cannot form a government since he is under criminal indictment angered his former political allies on Monday and Tuesday.
“I am not prepared to believe that Blue and White would give Bibi an immunity law,” Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid wrote on social media in response to the reports. “Even the Right would not give Bibi the personal immunity law that he wanted.”
Telem leader Moshe Ya’alon told Gantz via social media that his intentions may be good, but he has been tricked by a cynical criminal trying to evade justice via legislation that would make him into a despot who is above the law.
“It is not too late to regret a mistake in navigation,” Ya’alon wrote.
Gantz responded to his former Blue and White colleagues, saying “no one can preach to me about politics, and no one will take me away from my deep belief that Israel must come first.”
In his role as Knesset speaker, Gantz did not convene a special Knesset session that was expected to take place on Monday during Passover, as a gesture to Likud that he is serious about reaching an agreement.
The Knesset will convene on Thursday to pass legislation related to the coronavirus. Next week, Yesh Atid-Telem MKs intend to submit bills that would prevent Netanyahu from forming a government. It will be Gantz’s decision whether to bring them to a vote.
While Gantz faced pressure from his Left, Netanyahu was pressured from the Right. During a phone meeting with Yamina head Naftali Bennett and other Yamina MKs, the prime minister vowed that in any agreement, he would not give up control over the Judicial Selection Committee.
Right-wing former Blue and White MKs Yoaz Hendel and Zvi Hauser promised Netanyahu on Monday that if he signed a unity government agreement with Gantz, they would help him on legal issues.
Hendel met earlier Monday with the heads of the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea and Samaria, who tried unsuccessfully to persuade him and Hauser to join a 61 MK, right-wing coalition without Blue and White. Jordan Valley Regional Council head David Elhayani also held a separate telephone call with Hauser this week.
The application of sovereignty over West Bank settlements is in jeopardy unless Netanyahu forms a right-wing, 61-member government with Hendel and Hauser now, the settler leaders warned on Monday.
“The situation is now in their hands,” Yesah director-general Yigal Dilmoni told our reporters.