Gantz, Netanyahu Meet for Unity Government Negotiations

Kahol Lavan and Likud disagree over are who should serve as prime minister first in a rotating government, and whether Likud will break its alliance with religious, right wing parties

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz.
AFP

Kahol Lavan Chairman Benny Gantz met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday in the first meeting between the two since Gantz received the mandate to form a government from President Reuven Rivlin on Wednesday.

At defense headquarters in Tel Aviv, the two party leaders discussed "the existing political possibilities" and agreed to meet again in the near future, according to a joint statement by the two parties.

After the meeting, Gantz said that the discussion was productive and that he would continue in his attempts to establish a unity government and prevent a third general election. 

Earlier Sunday, after the Kahol Lavan and Likud negotiating teams met to prepare for the Gantz-Netanyahu meeting, both sides said no progress had been made, but they would meet again in the coming days.

The two main disagreements are who should serve as prime minister first in a rotation government, and whether Likud would break its alliance with religious, right-wing parties in order to establish the "broad, liberal unity government" as desired by Kahol Lavan.

In a statement after the meeting, Likud said its representatives stressed that they were negotiating on behalf of the entire right-wing, religious bloc comprising 55 Knesset members. Kahol Lavan, however, is insisting that Netanyahu dismantle his bloc and negotiate solely on behalf of his party.

Both Kahol Lavan and parties in Netanyahu's bloc confirmed that Likud was not willing to compromise the bloc's unity, meaning Netanyahu would not enter a unity government with Gantz without ultra-Orthodox parties Shas and United Torah Judaism, as well as Yamina, the alliance of right-wing parties headed by Ayelet Shaked.

Regarding the other major point of contention, Likud said Kahol Lavan refused to accept Rivlin's proposal under which Netanyahu would initially serve as prime minister but would be declared incapacitated if he were indicted in the corruption cases against him. According to Rivlin's proposal, Gantz would take over as acting prime minister with full powers, but Netanyahu would retain the official title.

Kahol Lavan, however, said Rivlin’s proposal was no longer relevant because Netanyahu failed in his attempt to form a government and Gantz had now been asked to form a cabinet. Thus Gantz should be the first prime minister in any rotation government, Kahol Lavan argued.

So far, neither party has shown any willingness to compromise, though Kahol Lavan’s statement said the atmosphere at the preparatory meeting was good. Likud’s statement expressed “hope that at the next meetings, Kahol Lavan will change its approach,” while Kahol Lavan said that subsequent meetings would have to be based “on the understanding that Gantz currently holds the mandate and will therefore be the designated prime minister.”

Kahol Lavan’s team also met Sunday with Avigdor Lieberman's negotiating team.

Earlier Sunday, Kahol Lavan MK Chili Tropper ruled out the possibility of forming a minority government that relies on the Arab parties’ Joint List supporting it from the opposition. This is the first time since the September election that a member of Gantz’s party has ruled out cooperating with the Joint List.

Another Kahol Lavan MK, Asaf Zamir, said in an interview with the Knesset television channel that “all options are on the table.”