Netanyahu likely to return mandate to Rivlin

Gantz could be tasked with building coalition by end of week

PRESIDENT REUVEN RIVLIN gestures to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the President’s Residence on Wednesday. (photo credit: REUTERS)
PRESIDENT REUVEN RIVLIN gestures to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the President’s Residence on Wednesday.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Barring unforeseen flexibility by Blue and White in coalition talks with Likud on Sunday morning, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will already return his mandate to form a government to President Reuven Rivlin before Rosh Hashanah begins Sunday evening, Likud sources said Saturday.
Sources close to Rivlin said he was prepared to receive the mandate back from Netanyahu and that there was no meeting or formal procedure required. If the mandate is returned, Rivlin may hold additional consultations but would formally task Blue and White leader Benny Gantz with forming a government by Thursday, the day when the new Knesset will be sworn in.
“If we receive the mandate, we will immediately start working to build a government and appeal to every faction, except the Joint List, which already said they would not join us,” a senior Blue and White official close to Gantz said.
Gantz would then have 28 days to build a coalition, with no possibility of receiving an extension. If Gantz fails, there would be a three-week period in which any MK could obtain the support of 61 MKs and form a government to avoid a third election in under a year.
Likud officials said those 21 days were “the real show” when a government could be formed, and until then, it appeared there was nothing to talk about with Blue and White. They said the only way to avoid returning the mandate was for Blue and White to accept Rivlin’s plan to pass a law enabling a prime minister to suspend himself indefinitely to deal with an indictment while a bolstered vice prime minister runs the country until the prime minister is cleared of charges.
“The prime minister instructed the Likud’s negotiating team to make every effort to build a broad unity government, according to the president’s framework [on Sunday],” the Likud said in an official statement. “But if Blue and White does not accept the framework or a realistic alternative, there is no point in wasting time and continuing to paralyze the country. Perhaps in the last three weeks, the people of Blue and White will understand that their hopes of an upheaval in Likud or breaking up the nationalist camp have no basis in reality.”
The first official coalition talks between Likud and Blue and White started and ended on the wrong foot on Friday, but in a sign of hope, teams representing the two parties did meet for more than four hours at Jerusalem’s Orient Hotel.
The meeting ended with the two parties issuing statements summarizing the meeting in which they both complained that the other party did not want to talk about what really mattered and focused instead on issues that are irrelevant.
The Likud complained that Blue and White did not respond to the Likud’s request that the basis for the talks be Rivlin’s compromise idea. A Blue and White spokeswoman said the Likud wanted Rivlin’s plan, because it would let Netanyahu start off as prime minister but refused to discuss key policy issues. She also complained the Likud continued to insist on negotiating as a bloc.
“Blue and White will continue to insist that the essence and the content be the thrust of the negotiations to form a government,” the spokeswoman said. “But the Likud just cared about Netanyahu remaining prime minister as the basis for the discussion.”
The two teams will meet again on Sunday morning after Blue and White declined Likud’s request to meet on Saturday night.
The talks also started badly Friday morning when Blue and White negotiators refused to enter the room until the press left.
The Likud invited the media for a photo opportunity ahead of the talks, but Blue and White complained that it had not been coordinated with them.
“We have nothing to be ashamed of in meetings with Blue and White,” Likud Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin said.
Asked whether they were ashamed of meeting with Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman, who called for talks without preconditions on Thursday, Elkin said there was no reason to meet with him because he actually has many conditions.
“That would be a sideshow that would get in the way of progress,” Elkin said.
Blue and White chief coalition negotiator Yoram Turbowicz told The Jerusalem Post at the meeting that Likud wants to build a ceiling before the house’s foundations, while his party wants to build foundations first.