Fourth Elections Hang Over Unity Talks as Deadline Nears

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israel unity government
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu giving a press conference about the coronavirus last month. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Both Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu‏‏ and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz repeated their pledges of allegiance to the goal of a unity government in speeches on Monday night, after another day of talks failed to produce that unity.

“Benny, I’m waiting for you in the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem — let’s meet tonight on creating a national emergency government that will save lives and work for the citizens of Israel,” Netanyahu tweeted with about two hours left before Gantz’s mandate to form a government runs out.

Gantz, for his part, urged the overcoming of differences, though he indicated that he had met his quota of overcoming.

“For three weeks, we’ve been negotiating with clean hands,” Gantz said. “We’ve made compromises … We’ve done everything we can to serve the citizens and prevent fourth elections.”

“Netanyahu and Likud know we are fair-minded partners,” he says. “They also know there are some issues we cannot compromise over” — and first of all “the rule of law and the protection of democracy.” That last was a reference to control over the Justice Ministry, which Gantz was promised by Likud and refuses to let Likud take it back.

“A fair agreement was reached a few days ago… a fair division of the burden [that] put the good of the state ahead of all of our personal interests,” he said.

Netanyahu indicated that he would be willing to carry on negotiations after the deadline as well.

If the two sides do not come together by midnight, Gantz’s mandate expires. President Reuven Rivlin has indicated that he will not turn it over to Netanyahu, but instead will give the Knesset 21 days to pick a prime minister. If that comes to naught, then a fourth round of elections will be necessary.

In that event, Likud could fare quite well. A poll by Channel 12 released on Monday found that if elections were held today, Likud would walk away with 40 seats, 7 more than it has now and way ahead of the rest of the field.

Blue and White would get 19 seats, the Joint List 15 and Yesh Atid-Telem (the factions no longer in Blue and White) 10. Shas gets 9, Yamina 8, United Torah Judaism 7, Yisrael Beytenu 7, and Meretz 5.

That would give Netanyahu’s right-religious bloc 64 MKs and a clear path to government.

The once-mighty Labor party would get 1.1 percent of the vote, a historic wipeout.