The meeting between Blue and White Party leader Benny Gantz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not go anywhere, the former said in a faction meeting in the Knesset on Monday.
“The meeting with Netanyahu was businesslike, but we didn’t succeed in making progress,” Gantz said. “We do not just want to hold the steering wheel; we want to determine where to go.”
Gantz said that in negotiations, he is focused foremost on national security and the state budget, and not “suspensions or immunity or serving while under indictment.”
“The citizens of Israel come first,” he stated. “We will serve them.”
Gantz spoke a day after his first meeting with Netanyahu since receiving the mandate to form the next government.
The Blue and White leader pointed to a “central difficulty” in the coalition talks, that the Likud wants to negotiate in the name of the entire 55-seat right-wing bloc.
“We will listen to small parties, but we will not let them dictate the national agenda,” he stated. “The good option is still a unity government with Likud. The worst is an election.”
Gantz added that his party “will try to do everything to reach unity, but we will not give up on any option to form a government and prevent an election,” an apparent reference to a minority government with outside support from the Joint List. Some MKs in Blue and White have spoken out against such a coalition.
Blue and White announced that Gantz would meet with Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh on Thursday afternoon.
Netanyahu said Israel needs “a broad-based national commitment to defend ourselves by ourselves against any threat, so we need a national-unity government,” in an address to the Jewish Agency Board of Governors in Jerusalem.
According to Netanyahu, “There’s no reason we can’t have it in 24 hours.”
The prime minister characterized his conversation with the man who may take his place as good, and said “There is no real, substantive reason we can’t do” a unity government.
“The reason it can’t be done is the reason it wasn’t done a month ago when President Reuven Rivlin said exactly that,” he stated.“There are forces in Gantz’s party – specifically [Blue and White co-chairman Yair] Lapid – who don’t want it, and Gantz must summon the will to overcome these forces.”
Lapid said at his faction’s meeting that “what Netanyahu has to do is be second in the rotation. Once that happens, we can form a government in 48 hours.
“Netanyahu didn’t try to form a government; we are trying everything... Netanyahu used his 28 days [to build a coalition] for one purpose only – to push us towards elections,” Lapid argued.
Gantz also met with Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman on Monday, in a meeting that Liberman said was positive and focused only on matters of national security.
The two discussed “my view on Gaza, whether we continue the policy of surrender or not, what is happening with the Palestinian matter and the settlements in Judea and Samaria [and] with Iran,” he said.
Liberman explained that, contrary to reports, he and Gantz do not have an agreement that Blue and White won’t form a coalition without him.
“There are so many difficult decisions to be made in matters of security and they cannot be made in a narrow coalition,” Liberman said in a Yisrael Beytenu faction meeting. “We need a broad national agreement, and that would be first of all with the two large parties forming the government. We would be happy to be part of it, but even without us, it’s better than going to another election.”
Liberman suggested that Netanyahu give up on the rest of the right-wing bloc and be first in a rotation with Gantz for the premiership.
Liberman also emphasized that he will not support various initiatives Blue and White has sought to promote in the Knesset before a government is formed, including passing a law that would require a prime minister to resign if he is under indictment, replacing the Knesset speaker, and manning the Knesset Law, Constitution and Justice Committee.
On Monday evening, Gantz met with Labor-Gesher leaders Amir Peretz and Orly Levy-Abecassis.
Peretz told the Blue and White leader that he does not agree to a rotation with Netanyahu, because he promised his voters that he would not be in a coalition with Netanyahu.
He also stated in a Labor-Gesher faction meeting that his party wants to help Gantz replace Netanyahu, as well as Netanyahu’s policies.
“We are talking about a government of change in social matters, and laws on the social subject must be at the center of the next government’s guidelines,” Peretz stated. “We want a social Iron Dome that will ensure a different health and education system for the citizens of Israel… We won’t blink and won’t change our stances.”
Also on Monday, Netanyahu officially became Diaspora affairs minister, in addition to prime minister, defense minister, health minister and interim labor, welfare and social services minister. The new position came because no new Diaspora affairs minister was appointed after Netanyahu fired Naftali Bennett from the cabinet earlier this year. Bayit Yehudi leader Rafi Peretz replaced Bennett in the Education Ministry.