Post-Mortems on the Last-Ditch Talks

Speaker of the Knesset Yuli Edelstein (center), flanked by Likud MKs Zeev Elkin (left) and Yariv Levin. (Flash90)

The last-ditch attempt at forging a unity government initiated by Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein this week appears to have failed, even as time runs out before another round of elections will have to be called.

On Thursday, Likud and Blue and White MKs talked about the reasons for the impasse and the near-term political outlook.

Minister Zeev Elkin, a negotiator for Likud, discussing the calculations involved, saying that, “in a situation where Benny Gantz will be first in a rotation, Blue and White will cut to elections after two years.

“There are no guarantees,” Elkin told the Knesset Channel. “When we give guarantees for rotation, obviously we will have no choice but to remain – because if the law passes, we will not be able to go to elections since the prime minister will not be able to lead the party in elections. We are forced to sit in government with them all the time in their rotation.”

Elkin revealed that “when we asked them, if the prime minister would still be in the legal process, then would he be second [in the rotation]– and they said no – we certainly could not agree. So Netanyahu won’t be first, and he won’t be second. For this, the Likud got the public’s trust?

“The approach of Blue and White is puzzling,” he continued. “If the elections are going to be in six months, then Netanyahu will serve as prime minister for six months. We are ready to talk to them about a shorter period in which he will serve,” and still they don’t agree.

Nevertheless, on Thursday night, Channel 13 reported a fresh Likud proposal, this time providing for Netanyahu to serve as prime minister for 3-4 months before stepping aside for another Likud official to serve as PM. Netanyahu would only retain his status as a Knesset member. Blue and White would receive the premiership after half the term — two years.

The report said Blue and White officials were unsure whether the offer was genuine and that there were internal party debates on whether to consider it.

Blue and White did not respond directly to Elkin’s comments, instead issuing general accusations about the shiftiness of Likud.

“These talks are nothing but a transparent maneuver of the Likud to shift blame for a third election,” a source in Blue and White said, according to The Jerusalem Post.

MK Ofer Shelah of Blue and White declared that “ideas as expressed by Yuli Edelstein and others indicate that Likud also understands that the Netanyahu era is over.”

In his latest attack on Netanyahu, Yair Lapid said, ”It’s getting sad what’s happening to Bibi. He does everything to push for elections and then doesn’t understand why no one believes him that he doesn’t want elections. The only reason there is no unity government: a prime minister with three serious indictments, who is clinging to the chair for a narrow personal interest, “Lapid said.

Netanyahu wasn’t short of accusations either. In a meeting with the Yesha Council on Thursday, he said “there’s a trick being played here. They are trying to blame us the failure to form a unity government. It’s all excuses. It’s not because of mistrust. It’s because Lapid doesn’t want you to set up such a government – he wants you to set up a left-wing government, a minority government where he can claim a rotation, or to run for election and he can then [be prime minister] in a rotation. He doesn’t want unity.”

“That’s why they are looking for excuses. We went very far and each time we got another excuse. From what I hear, they did not give up at all on forming a minority government and such a minority government would be supported by clear-cut terrorist supporters who would oppose any IDF operation is simply a disaster for the State of Israel. That is why there has been and remains problem with a minority government,” the prime minister added.

One thing both sides did agree on, though, is that there will be no unity government and that another election is almost certain.

Meanwhile, the Likud continued to be roiled by a brewing power struggle. Channel 12 quoted party sources saying that Edelstein is “seriously weighing” running against Netanyahu and Gideon Saar in a Likud leadership primary.

Although Edelstein came in first after Netanyahu in the last Likud vote, current polls show him far behind the other two in any race for the chairmanship.

In any case, Edelstein denied the report.

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