Third election looking likely with coalition talks at a deadlock

Events of the last week have pushed Blue and White away from the Likud.

Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Benny Gantz (R) (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Benny Gantz (R)
A unity government looked highly unlikely as of Wednesday night, with both the Likud and Blue and White saying negotiations are at an impasse with no chance of a breakthrough.
The parties’ negotiating teams are expected to meet on Thursday morning, despite their skepticism.
While the parties have said publicly that they want a unity government, behind closed doors, sources in the negotiations do not see a path to a coalition.
Blue and White leader Benny Gantz has 21 days left to form a government before the mandate to do so goes to the Knesset, which will then have 21 days for a majority of its members to back a candidate for prime minister. If that does not happen, a third election within a year will be called.
A senior Blue and White source said there has been almost no substance in their meetings with Likud so far, but he hoped they would delve into the political issues on Thursday. He said the Likud’s insistence that Netanyahu be prime minister first in a rotation was a nonstarter as long as Gantz has the mandate to form a government.
Likud chief negotiator Yariv Levin said that after Gantz showed willingness to compromise after meeting with Netanyahu, the rest of the “cockpit” – Blue and White’s quadripartite leadership, which also includes Yair Lapid, Moshe Ya’alon and Gabi Ashkenazi – pushed back, leading Gantz to reverse course.
A Blue and White source hinted as much, calling Gantz “politically dense,” which has the positive aspect of him being genuine when he talks about wanting to hear from all parts of the political spectrum, but the negative of him not understanding how to negotiate.
Levin said of Blue and White: “I think they still believe they can form a minority government, and that some of them think another election will be good for them.”
“Maybe some of them have a delusion that the bloc [of right-wing parties] will split apart,” he added. “The bloc is stable, very tight.”
Gantz implied he was working on breaking up Netanyahu’s 55-seat bloc of religious and right-wing parties.
“I can’t give in-depth details of the things that were brought up in conversations with me with the heads of factions, including those making up the 55-seat bloc,” Gantz wrote in a Facebook post marking a week since President Reuven Rivlin tasked him with forming a government. “I can only tell you that the picture drawn in the media is not necessarily accurate.”
Spokesmen and sources from all the factions in the bloc – Bayit Yehudi, New Right, Shas and United Torah Judaism – denied talking to Gantz in the past week, since he called the parties’ leaders immediately after receiving the mandate to build a coalition. At the time, all the bloc’s leaders told him they would not negotiate independently.
The only party leader who spoke to Gantz was New Right’s Ayelet Shaked, who exchanged a few words with him in the Knesset plenum on Tuesday, in view of the press gallery and Knesset Channel cameras. But Shaked said the conversation was pleasantries and not coalition talks.
One source in the bloc said that his party is in touch with segments of Blue and White in an attempt to help bring about a unity government, but “there hasn’t been much to discuss, because elements in Blue and White are more interested in replacing Netanyahu than forming a government.” A source in another right-wing party expressed similar frustration at Gantz’s faction’s focus on getting rid of the prime minister.
In addition to Blue and White not accepting the Likud negotiators as representing the entire religious-right bloc, the parties disagree on the details of the “president’s plan,” by which Gantz would be Netanyahu’s deputy who would replace him while Netanyahu went on an extended leave to handle his legal woes.
The parties still strongly disagree on when Netanyahu would take leave, and have yet to work out that detail in the negotiations.
Blue and White has consistently said it will not sit in a coalition with a prime minister who is under indictment. Since Mandelblit is expected to announce his decision as to whether to indict Netanyahu and on what charges in the next few weeks, that would keep Netanyahu in office for a very short amount of time until Mandelblit formally submits the indictment.
The Likud, however, seeks to keep Netanyahu in the Prime Minister’s Office as long as possible, even long after his trial has begun.
The party’s negotiators have said Netanyahu should not have to leave office until testimony or the presentation of evidence in court has begun, but they have pushed for the deadline to be as late as a first conviction in court, before an appeal, a source in the negotiations confirmed.
Netanyahu would legally have to leave office only if he were convicted by the Supreme Court.
A senior Blue and White source said the events of the last week have not changed the party negotiators’ mandate. Respect for the rule of law is a priority for Blue and White, and the investigation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s top aides for allegedly harassing a witness in one of his corruption cases, Justice Minister Amir Ohana’s press conference claiming a conspiracy in the State Attorney’s Office and pro-Netanyahu demonstrations outside Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit’s house have brought condemnation from Blue and White MKs, but no practical difference.
Likud negotiators said they tried to assuage at least one of Blue and White’s concerns about a rotation for the premiership between the parties’ respective leaders.
One of Blue and White’s hesitations about a unity government has been that as prime minister, Netanyahu would have the authority to fire ministers from their party without input from Gantz, sparking another election before Netanyahu goes on leave and Gantz becomes prime minister.
The Likud offered to amend the law so that the prime minister would not be able to fire ministers without agreement from his deputy prime minister, which would be Gantz when Netanyahu is in office.
Another compromise the Likud offered was Gantz replacing Netanyahu as prime minister to be part of the package the Knesset votes on when approving the formation of a government, in order not to risk there not being a majority when Gantz becomes premier.
“It doesn’t really matter now,” Levin said, “because it’s not clear that they even want a government.”
However, a senior Blue and White source said the Likud did not offer either compromise to negotiators, because they had yet to discuss any details of a rotation agreement.