Negotiations between Likud and Blue and White on a national-unity government began in earnest on Monday with a secret meeting that raised optimism an agreement between the two sides could be reached to end the political stalemate.
The meeting took place in the morning before Blue and White leader Benny Gantz officially received the mandate to form a government from President Reuven Rivlin at the President's Residence in Jerusalem. That the meeting was not publicized and there were no briefings afterward was seen as a sign of progress.
All both sides would say was that the gaps were not wide, an apparent reference to negotiations over portfolios and the length of the rotation in the Prime Minister's Office between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Gantz.
Shas leader Arye Deri, who acts as a political adviser to Netanyahu, met with Blue and White MK Gabi Ashkenazi in another channel that could bear fruit.
But despite the reported progress, Blue and White submitted three bills on the first day of the Knesset on Monday that all targeted Netanyahu. The bills call for limitation of the prime ministerial tenure to two terms, the termination of the tenure of a sitting prime minister or minister under indictment and the prohibition against assigning the task of formulating a governing coalition to an indicted MK.
Likud responded that Blue and White's behavior was making the coalition negotiations between the two parties fail and was irresponsible during an international crisis such as the coronavirus outbreak.
"They say they want to form a unity government, but they advance personal, antidemocratic, retroactive legislation aimed at canceling the will of the voters and erasing the votes of more than 2.5 million voters [of Likud and its satellite parties]," a Likud spokesman said. "Even in Iran and Turkey, they don't advance such laws. That is not the way you act when you really want a unity government."
Gantz received a four-week mandate from Rivlin to form a government. It was the second time Gantz received the mandate after he failed to form a government after the September election.
Rivlin said he was giving the mandate to Gantz because he received 61 recommendations to form the government, compared with 58 for Netanyahu. He urged Gantz to form as wide a government as possible as soon as possible, adding that a temporary government might be needed at first.
In accepting the mandate, Gantz vowed that within a few days he would "do everything to form a patriotic national government that would be as broad as possible – in a matter of days, as few days as possible." He said the government would serve people who voted for Blue and White, people who voted for Likud and people who voted for every other party, both Right and Left."
Gantz promised to "protect the interests of the people of Judea and Samaria, along with the interests of Israel’s Arab citizens, of the people of Israel’s social and geographic periphery and the people of central Israel."
He also vowed to "heal Israeli society from the effects of the coronavirus epidemic and from the epidemic of divisiveness and hate."
In a further reference to the coronavirus, Gantz said he was reaching out his elbow to party heads to join his government, including Netanyahu. Gantz began building a coalition shortly after receiving the mandate from Rivlin.
Just after leaving the President's Residence, Gantz called Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman and Labor-Meretz chairman Amir Peretz and told them he intends to form as broad a government as possible to meet the significant challenges currently facing the State of Israel. He met with Liberman and Peretz later Monday.
But when Gantz called Yamina's chairman, Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, and the leaders of Shas and United Torah Judaism and invited them to meet, they all turned him down. Bennett instead called on Gantz to join a government led by Netanyahu.
"I will not meet you until your party disassociates itself from the support of the Joint List, which backs terrorists," Bennett said he told Gantz.