Netanyahu, Gantz to Continue Talks As Time for Forming Government Extended for 48 Hours

This is now the third attempt to form a coalition in Israel, as neither Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party nor the Blue and White alliance was able to form a coalition government following two inconclusive votes in April and September of last year.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Knesset (parliament) speaker Benny Gantz are continuing talks on forming a coalition government, the Jerusalem Post reported on Tuesday as Israeli President Reuven Rivlin granted the leader of the Blue and White alliance, a 48-hour extension to form a coalition government, prolonging a mandate that was set to expire at midnight local time on Tuesday [21:00 GMT on Monday].

The talks will be resumed on Tuesday morning.

Both Netanyahu and Gantz have jointly asked President Rivlin to extend the mandate to form a coalition, Haaretz newspaper reported.

Earlier on Monday, Gantz urged premier Netanyahu to form an emergency unity government together.

"Netanyahu, this is our moment of truth", Gantz said, according to TRT World.

Netanyahu also invited Gantz on Twitter to join him in a national emergency government "that will save lives and act for the citizens of Israel".

Benny Gantz, an ex-military chief and current speaker of Israel's parliament, has failed to form an alliance with his rival Prime Minister Netanyahu over the past three elections.

On 2 March Israel held its third round of parliamentary elections in a year in a bid to resolve the political deadlock. The snap elections' final count of votes saw Likud in the lead with 36 seats in the 120-seat parliament. Blue and White came in second with 33 mandates.

Israeli Tweeps Debate Unity Government But Bracing Themselves for Another General Vote

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin has decided to grant the head of the Blue and White Alliance, Benny Gantz, a 48-hour extension to form a coalition government, prolonging a mandate that was set to expire at midnight on Tuesday, Israeli media reported.

While Benny Gantz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu finalise an agreement that will see the establishment of a coalition in Israel, Twitter users are venting their anger at the situation and taking into consideration the possibility of a fourth general election, slated for the end of July if necessary.

This comes after Gantz submitted a joint request with Netanyahu calling on the head of state to give them a couple more days to cement their agreement on forming a unity government. 

President Reuven Rivlin earlier rejected Gantz's request for an extension threatening the mandate would go back to Israel's Parliament if a deal was not reached, but later reconsidered his decision by giving the Blue and White leader additional time.

Although the deal has not yet been finalised, reports suggest that the two are very close to signing an agreement that would divide power between them.

The deal presupposes that Netanyahu would occupy the PM's seat first, with Gantz serving as his deputy and the Minister of Defence. After a year and a half, they would swap.

While the agreement is still in the making, many took to social media to urge the two leaders to stick to their promises.

People Want Unity

Shimon Riklin, an Israeli journalist for Channel 20 who is supportive of Netanyahu, wrote: "Dear Prime Minister. It is not easy for me to write this given the outcomes this unity might entail... but you promised unity. Keep your word".

Another well-known journalist Yinon Magal followed Riklin. "Don't count on polls", he advised Netanyahu referring to a survey that showed his Likud would only get 40 seats if a fourth election were held today. 

"Don't get over excited from the split of the Blue and White and the divisions in the leftist camp. The High Court of Justice is waiting for you just around the corner... don't play with fire... finalise a unity agreement for the sake of Israel and its sovereignty".

They are not alone. According to a Channel 12 poll conducted a month ago when the Jewish state started implementing a series of measures aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19, 65 percent of Israelis were supportive of a unity government, with 26 percent objecting to the idea.

Unity Government? Not So Fast

However, for unity to happen, Netanyahu and Gantz will need to agree on two major issues that so far have stalled any progress in talks. The first is Israel's sovereignty over the Jordan Valley.

The PM insists that the move should be done immediately after the formation of the government. Gantz, on the other hand, would like to wait to gain international recognition and support, a highly improbable scenario given the fact that the Jordan Valley that makes up some 30 percent of the West Bank and is considered Palestinian land by international law.

The second point of friction is the dispute over the Justice Ministry. While Netanyahu wants to man the institution with his people, most probably in an attempt to evade trial, Gantz objects to the move demanding that it would be his party holding the keys to the post.

In a bid to remove these obstacles and ink an agreement, Netanyahu and Gantz are set to meet later today, right before the Passover holidays when Israel goes into a full lockdown to contain the spread of COVID-19.

The coalition talks have drawn flak from some politicians.

Naftali Bennet, Israel's Defence Minister and the head of Yamina, said his party was no longer interested in remaining in Netanyahu's bloc.

"Netanyahu sold the right-wing camp to save himself. But he will soon learn that his new partners that will hold the Justice Ministry's position will kick him out of Balfour [location of PM's residence - ed.] and when they do so, we will not be there [to give him a helping hand]", the statement read.

Ordinary Israelis have also vented anger at the planned unity between the two.

"Come on, coronavirus is not a good enough reason to establish a unity government... In Europe PM's manage their countries wearing pajamas and using Zoom... Go home!"

"No unity government please. Gantz doesn't deserve it. Nor is he fit for the job of prime minister".

General Polls Are Not Off the Table

Others were highly doubtful a unity government was possible at all.

One tweep wrote: "the left-wing is giving up on its policy 'anything but Bibi'. The right-wing gives up on all the values that are sacred to the bloc. For some reason I don't think this unity is going to work".

Another Twitter follower wrote: "There will be no unity. Instead there are two realistic options. 1. The defection of Gideon Saar and his friends to the unity bloc and 2. Fourth round of elections. Another round of general polls is 99.9 percent probable... it is ideal for Bibi... as he will be able to continue serving as interim prime minister for another year".

If by midnight on Wednesday, Gantz fails to reach an agreement with Netanyahu, the mandate will go back to the Knesset which will have to put forward a candidate that possesses the 61 signatures needed to form a government. 

Given the fact that nobody has managed to do it so far, the chances that Israel will go to the polls again, most probably at the end of July, are high.

Many Israelis object to the notion of another general vote that will cost taxpayers more than $800 million at a time when the unemployment rate has hit a record high of 25 percent.

Others, however, prefer the polls over a unity government.

"I am praying for another round so that politician like Orly Levy Abecassis, Amir Peretz... and Benny Gantz will fly straight to the garbage bin of Israeli politics and there will be no one to mourn for them".

"I only want a fourth round. I will repeat myself. I want a fourth round of elections and I want the right-wing bloc to win...".

Netanyahu ‘Knows the Game Better’ Than Gantz, Won’t Give Up PM Seat Without Election

With talks toward the formation of a coalition government extended until midnight Wednesday and Thursday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel Resilience Party leader Benny Gantz are conducting negotiations that one expert argues will likely set the incumbent up for continued success while also denying Gantz the position in the future.

Miko Peled, the author of “The General’s Son: The Journey of an Israeli in Palestine” and "Injustice: The Story of the Holy Land Foundation Five,” joined Radio Sputnik’s Loud and Clear on Tuesday to discuss the ongoing negotiations between the two politicians and detail why Gantz refused to form his own government.

Peled told hosts Brian Becker and John Kiriakou that when it comes to Israeli politics, there are two things to keep in mind - with the first being that Netanyahu is not going anywhere.

“He has amassed an enormous amount of influence over the 10 years that he’s been prime minister, and even before that, as a major player in Israeli politics. Nobody knows the game better than he does. Nobody is as dirty and sneaky and lacks principles like him,” he argued.

The second point to keep in mind, according to Peled, is the fact that the Blue and White Alliance’s Gantz rejected the option of becoming prime minister and creating a minority government because he did not want the “stain” of relying on the Joint List.

Peled pointed out that many Israelis feel as if the Palestinians and the Joint List are “terror-supporting, fifth column Arabs.” Furthermore, he argued that Gantz knew that “had he done that, his life would’ve been absolutely miserable.”

Though Gantz passed up his opportunity to be Israel’s head of government, Netanyahu’s offer allowed him to negotiate with people familiar to him.

At the same time, the current Israeli prime minister is more than likely plotting a way to ensure that Gantz never holds that office, Peled said. He explained that one clause Netanyahu is pushing for during the coalition talks would require a general election to take place if he were removed from office, rather than Gantz automatically becoming prime minister.

Prior to the extension granted by Israeli President Reuven Rivlin to Gantz, the original deadline for a decision was Monday at midnight. The rush to form a unity government has been attributed to the ongoing COVID-19 coronavirus crisis facing the country, which has resulted in a total of 12,046 confirmed cases of the virus and 123 related deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 dashboard.

Peled highlighted that no one has bothered to bring up the fact that, as has been the case for decades, “2 million Palestinians [are] living 30 minutes away from Tel Aviv in a concentration camp with no access to water, no access to medicine, no access to travel, no access to nutrition and [are] being bombed on a regular basis.”