A unity government seemed closer than ever on Wednesday night, with Blue and White Party leader MK Benny Gantz moving toward negotiations based on President Reuven Rivlin’s outline for a rotation for the prime minister.
Rivlin’s idea is to pass a law enabling a prime minister to go on a recess of indeterminate length to deal with an indictment, and create a position of a bolstered vice prime minister to run the country until the prime minister is cleared of charges. Under the current law, a prime minister can only take a 100-day break from his position, and only if he is incapacitated.
Gantz expressed willingness to negotiate based on Rivlin’s proposal, according to multiple media reports, but would want to be prime minister and not vice prime minister while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is suspended from the premiership, assuming he is indicted.
In addition, Likud and Blue and White would have to negotiate about which point in the legal process would be Netanyahu’s time to bow out. The plan also did not give any kind of guarantees for the rotation, or address who will live in the Prime Minister’s Residence.
“We will sit for a few months under Netanyahu and hold our noses, but he will have an expiration date,” Gantz said, according to Channel 12.
A source very close to Gantz denied the quote to The Jerusalem Post, but said they are ready for compromises to prevent a third election within a year.
Talks between Gantz and Netanyahu have been stalled for weeks, with Blue and White refusing to sit in a government while Netanyahu is under a recommended or actual indictment, and Likud insisting on negotiating as a 55-seat right-wing bloc and not as an individual party.
Netanyahu also took a step toward a possible unity government – in his capacity as defense minister – by authorizing a meeting between Gantz and IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi, which took place on Wednesday afternoon. Gantz, a former IDF chief of staff, requested the meeting.
The meeting addressed “security challenges and regional developments,” the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit said.
Netanyahu has repeatedly cited security concerns as a reason to form a unity government as soon as possible, and a briefing with Kochavi on threats Israel is facing could give Gantz a reason to compromise without looking like he went back on his promises to voters.
Earlier on Tuesday, leaders of parties in the Right-religious bloc pledged not to join a minority government formed by Gantz.
The pledge is intended to make it harder for Gantz to build a coalition. It refers to a scenario in which Gantz builds a 44-MK minority coalition with Labor-Gesher and the Democratic Union that is backed from outside by the Joint List and Yisrael Beytenu to prevent it from falling.
The Likud has pressed Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman to make a similar commitment.
The signatories from Likud, Shas, United Torah Judaism and the National Union-Bayit Yehudi pledged that they would only enter a government led by Netanyahu, either a right-wing coalition or a unity government with a rotation in the Prime Minister’s Office.
The three MKs from the New Right – Ayelet Shaked, Naftali Bennett and Matan Kahane – refused to sign the document, calling the pledge “unnecessary.”
However Bennett, who is currently in the US, expressed opposition to a minority government.
“A government including the Joint List will fail because no party will join such a government,” he said. “The responsible and statesmanlike way is to form a national unity government headed by Netanyahu and Gantz.”
Liberman stressed during an interview on Army Radio on Wednesday morning that the only option is a liberal national-unity government. He said the government can’t include the “messianic” parties that are currently in the right-wing bloc, and can’t include the Joint List.
Liberman refused to answer directly questions concerning accusations by Likud Party members that he would not commit to ruling out supporting a minority left-wing government with the Joint List, insisting that Netanyahu is the only one who collaborates with Arab MKs.
“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is trying to drag the state to a third election,” he said.
The former defense minister also took a swipe at the prime minister when he said, “I have no interest in joining the Likud. The party and Netanyahu have no connection to the Right.”
Liberman later wrote on Facebook: “Five days ago, the head of Yisrael Beytenu’s negotiating team, MK Oded Forer, contacted Likud to open negotiations for establishing a unity government. Until now, no response has been received. The conclusion is that the Likud is not interested in the establishment of a unity government, but only the PM’s position and the ministerial positions.”
Blue and White’s No. 2, MK Yair Lapid, posted on Facebook on Wednesday morning that “the next government can be formed within two days but one man is stopping all of it,” referring to Netanyahu.
Lapid said there could be a stable and cohesive coalition of the 79 MKs of Blue and White, Likud, Yisrael Beytenu and Labor-Gesher.
“We are not even asking him to go home,” Lapid said. “All we are telling him is that he cannot be prime minister for the next two years, until his legal situation is clarified. I understand that he doesn’t like it, but this is what the country needs and the country is more important.”
Alex Winston contributed to this report.