Political deadlock as Likud, Blue and White make no breakthroughs

The sides plan to meet for further talks in the coming days.

Likud and Blue and White negotiation teams (photo credit: ELAD MALKA)
Likud and Blue and White negotiation teams
(photo credit: ELAD MALKA)
The political situation remained at a deadlock on Wednesday after Blue and White and Likud’s negotiating teams held another meeting.
The meeting “had a positive atmosphere, was serious and businesslike,” a joint statement from the two parties read. “The big gaps between the parties remain.”
The sides plan to meet for further talks in the coming days.
One matter that may have made negotiations even more difficult is Justice Minister Amir Ohana revealing details that were under a gag order related to a witness in one of the investigations against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In a discussion in the Knesset, in which MKs on the Center and Left criticized Ohana for his rhetoric against the State Attorney’s Office, the minister mentioned the prosecutors’ alleged blackmail of state’s witness Nir Hefetz, and made clear that Hefetz was having an extramarital affair, something that had not been publicized before.
Gantz tweeted: “The Justice Minister’s problematic behavior only proves why Israel cannot have a prime minister under indictment.”
Several Blue and White MKs slammed Ohana for his statement. The party ran in the last two elections in part on a law-and-order platform, in light of Netanyahu being under a potential indictment for fraud, breach of trust and bribery.
Negotiations have been stalled between the two largest parties for over a month, throughout Netanyahu’s time to form a government and now during Blue and White leader Benny Gantz’s turn.
Gantz has less than two weeks left until he must return the mandate to President Reuven Rivlin. If he fails to build a coalition by then, the Knesset will have 21 days to elect a prime minister with 61 votes, or a third election will be called.
There are two main obstacles to the large parties beginning to truly negotiate.
First is the 55-seat right-wing bloc. Netanyahu insists on having the Likud negotiate in the name of all five parties in the bloc, with their agreement, and Blue and White refuses to conduct talks unless they are with each party on its own.
The second is a rotation for prime minister between Gantz and Netanyahu. Blue and White does not trust Netanyahu to conduct a fair handover to Gantz, but Netanyahu wants to remain prime minister, in part because it will give him an advantage in his legal troubles.
New Right leader Naftali Bennett said that he thinks that there will be a third election in less than a year.
“Last week I realized that we reached a dead end,” he said on his new podcast. “I think there is a very, very high probability that we are going to elections, unless [Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor] Liberman backs down.”
If Yisrael Beytenu were to form a government with the right-wing bloc, Netanyahu would have a majority coalition. Bennett’s New Right co-leader Ayelet Shaked attempted to negotiate between Liberman and haredi parties, who are his main obstacle to working with the bloc.
If there’s a third election, Bennett posited, the Right will lose seats and there will likely be a left-wing government.
Bennett also expressed support for Shas leader Arye Deri’s initiative to have a direct election for prime minister as a one-time solution for the current political mess.
“I think Netanyahu has a better chance of winning” a direct election, he said. “It’ll get us out of this tangle... It’s a very creative proposal.”
Former prime minister Ehud Olmert was caught on camera trying to convince Shas to break off from the right-wing bloc.
“Why are they stuck to this group? Who are they? Do they bring honor to the Jewish people?” Olmert said to Rabbi David Yosef, son of deceased Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and a member of the party’s Council of Torah Sages.
Olmert said that Shas “won’t get anywhere” with Netanyahu, and told a story about Gantz saying kiddush at a meal they both attended.