Likud, Blue and White resume talks with deadline Monday night

High Court rejects petition to disqualify Netanyahu to form government.

President Rivlin meets with Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz about forming an emergency unity government due to coronavirus (photo credit: KOBY GIDEON/GPO)
President Rivlin meets with Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz about forming an emergency unity government due to coronavirus
(photo credit: KOBY GIDEON/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz instructed their teams to immediately resume intensive negotiations on an emergency government after five days with no talks on Sunday after President Reuven Rivlin rejected both their requests for a mandate to build a coalition. 
Sources in both parties reported progress in the talks and expressed optimism that an agreement could be reached on Monday. Talks continued by telephone late Sunday night in an effort to finalize an agreement. 
Rivlin informed Gantz earlier Sunday that he would not accept his request to extend his mandate to form a government for two more weeks. Rivlin made the decision after Netanyahu told him that a deal with Blue and White was not close. 
The Likud and its satellite parties formally asked the president on Sunday to give the mandate to Netanyahu instead of giving Gantz two weeks, as happened after the September election when Gantz got a mandate after Netanyahu. But Rivlin told Netanyahu that if there is no deal by the time Gantz's mandate ends at 11:59 p.m. on Monday night, he would not receive the mandate afterward. 
Instead, there would again be a 21-day period in which any MK could form a government – and if none do, a fourth election would be initiated. Rivlin's move was seen not as a move leading to an election but as an effort to put pressure on Netanyahu and Gantz to close a deal by a firm deadline. Immediately after Rivlin's announcement, Blue and White revealed that negotiations had resumed after five days with no talks. 
Netanyahu and Gantz spoke on Sunday and instructed their teams to resume the negotiations.  Gantz told Netanyahu that he is committed to the agreements that they have reached and is prepared to move forward once work on the legislation accompanying the agreements is complete. 
"The attempts by the negotiating teams to arrive at a unity government are still ongoing, their goal being to complete wording of legislation appendices requisite to the finalization of the agreement drafted last week," Blue and White said. "We have stated clearly that we will not allow the rule of law, nor any of the other fundamental principles that we have outlined, to be damaged." 
The High Court of Justice rejected a petition yet again to disqualify Netanyahu from forming a new government, while yet again leaving the door open to a refiling of the petition at the point at which he would actually be charged with forming a government. 
Lawyer Dafna Holz-Lechner refiled the petition earlier on Sunday on behalf of more than 100 hi-tech officials and concerned citizens to disqualify Netanyahu from forming a government due to his having been indicted on bribery charges. 
Her prior petitions and those of the Movement for Quality Government in Israel and other groups were rejected repeatedly by the High Court on the grounds of the petition being theoretical, since Netanyahu might not win the election. 
If the Netanyahu-Gantz deal goes through, the issue will be a concrete reality for the first time, and the High Court will finally have to rule.
All indications from the prior High Court rulings are that the justices had hoped the electorate would resolve the issue without their need to rule. 
However, given that the High Court passed on disqualifying Netanyahu back when Blue and White had bested Likud, and that Netanyahu is now in the driver's seat to lead the country for at least the next 18 months, it is likely that the justices will once again find a reason not to intervene. 
These could include the Knesset law that only requires forcing out a prime minister upon conviction with all appeals exhausted or the fact that Netanyahu won the most votes in the March 2 election. 
In the meantime, the High Court said the Netanyahu-Gantz negotiations have still not reached the point where the issue can be ruled on. 
In a blow to Gantz, Gesher MK Orly Levy-Abecassis formally rejoined the center-right bloc on Sunday, when she called upon Rivlin to give Netanyahu the mandate to form a government when Gantz's mandate ends.
Levy-Abecassis ran in the March 2 election on the Labor-Gesher-Meretz list, which has since broken up into three parties. When Rivlin entrusted Gantz with forming a government after the election, she was the only MK who did not recommend anyone. 
With Levy-Abecassis's endorsement, Netanyahu's bloc now has 59 MKs. Gantz's bloc has 61, but the Joint List, Meretz and Yesh Atid-Telem may not recommend him again. Right-wing MKs Yoaz Hendel and Zvi Hauser, who broke off from Blue and White and formed the Derech Eretz faction, still support Gantz holding the balance of power.
Levy-Abecassis wrote on social media that "Gantz's request to extend his mandate is an admission that he cannot form a government." She said Gantz's negotiations on forming a government were "a strange political illusion, accompanied by threats to the prime minister" and scolded Gantz for "selective preaching from those who promised clean politics."
"The prime minister should be given the mandate, because let's admit that only he has a chance to form a government," she wrote. 
Netanyahu shared her tweet and responded on Twitter, "Orly, welcome." 
Shortly before the election, Levy-Abecassis said the opposite, saying she would not join a Netanyahu-led government. 
"I will not be the life preserver of Benjamin Netanyahu," she told Channel 12.