Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz held what was seen as a dramatic meeting on Tuesday night, 26 hours before Gantz's mandate to form a government expires.
Prime Minister and Likud Party Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu released a statement following the meeting, saying "these are the final moments of a historic decision, one that will affect the nation's security and its future.""Unfortunately, today I realized in a meeting with Gantz that he was rejecting the president's proposal and ignoring the will of most of the nation's citizens, who want to see us form a broad national unity government together."
He continued, saying "Gantz intends to form a minority government that relies on the avoidance of the joint Arab list."Gantz said after the meeting, that "I have said time and time again that Israel needs a broad and liberal unity government, consisting primarily of the two major parties and led by Blue and White.
He added that "a government whose founding lines will be set on the basis of the major parties and therefore cannot be built on the basis of one sectoral block or another."
Gantz added: "A third round of elections is a bad thing, but basic principles and basic values cannot be waived. We will continue to make every effort and turn every stone in order to try and reach understandings and form a government, even in the remaining time, in order to prevent costly and unnecessary elections."Blue and White sources confirmed that this was the first political meeting between the two rivals since October 27, shortly after Gantz received the four-week mandate from President Reuven Rivlin. Netanyahu and Gantz met over security issues but the prime minister's military secretary was present and political issues were not discussed.President Reuven Rivlin and coalition kingmaker Avigdor Liberman both tried to mediate between Netanyahu and Gantz and to push them to make compromises for unity. Rivlin met with Netanyahu and the Likud negotiating team, while Liberman held separate meetings with Netanyahu and then Gantz. “The president was updated on the political situation by his guests,” Rivlin’s office said after the meeting with Netanyahu and the Likud negotiators. “He reiterated that he believes Israel needs a strong unity government that will be as wide as possible.”To that end, Gantz asked Labor-Gesher leader Amir Peretz to join a unity government, in which Netanyahu and Gantz would alternate in a rotation in the Prime Minister’s Office. Peretz refused, saying that he would keep his promise to his voters to not join any government led by Netanyahu, whose criminal indictments are expected to be finalized and announced at the beginning of next week.The caretaker prime minister is set to meet Lieberman again on Wednesday in an attempt to establish a national unity government, Likud said. Netanyahu met with Liberman for the second time in three days on Tuesday morning at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem. Following the Tuesday meeting, the two released a joint statement saying, "it was a good and professional meeting and the two of them will continue their efforts to form a unity government." KAN Radio reported Tuesday morning that in order to draw Liberman into the government without giving him what he wants on matters of religion and state, Netanyahu would offer him ministries and Knesset committees that have been controlled by United Torah Judaism and Shas.In a sign of improving ties between Netanyahu and Liberman, Yisrael Beytenu postponed the advancement of a bill that would have made it easier to split the Likud faction. In preparations for a third round of elections, MK Haim Katz began working on cancelling the Likud primaries. According to Likud officials, cancelling of primaries only relate to the party's Knesset list and not primaries for the party's head.