Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz called on Thursday to establish a broad, liberal unity government, but said that a prime minister embroiled in corruption cases doesn't necessarily have the citizens' best interests in mind. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded that the only way forward is a unity government headed by both candidates.
Speaking at a party meeting as the new Knesset prepares to be sworn in, Gantz further criticized Netanyahu, saying that a unity government, "not an immunity government," is needed. "We'll take it from here," Gantz said.
Gantz's remarks came just hours after Netanyahu and Yisrael Beiteinu's Avigdor Lieberman met for the first time since Israel's September 17 election, but Netanyahu's Likud party said "there was no breakthrough" in stalled coalition talks.
The meeting lasted less than an hour, with neither party reporting major progress.
>> Read more: Gantz caves, Netanyahu pushed aside or third election - what happens next? | Analysis ■ Key dates: A guide to important movments in Israeli politics over the next three months ■ With a sword at his throat, third election is no big deal for Netanyahu | Opinion
- Israel Election Results: ‘No Breakthrough’ in Netanyahu-Lieberman Meeting to End Political Deadlock
- Israel Election Results: Netanyahu Announces Thursday Meeting With Lieberman as Unity Talks With Gantz in Deadlock
- Israel election: What happens next?
"The State of Israel has been preoccupied for too long with elections. It's strange to think about it, but according to law, only in November were we supposed to head to an election for the 21st Knesset. There are some entities that want to take us to a 23rd Knesset," Gantz said.
Gantz also called on Netanyahu to resign. "I reiterate my call: Netanyahu, don't hold on to your position. We will take it from here, and together we will lead the country to good places."
The former Israeli army chief of staff stressed that a unity government was the right way to go.
"These days, there is a hearing on three serious cases. I wish for you to be emerge acquitted of all charges. I don't want to see you indicted for bribery and breach of trust," Gantz said of the prime minister.
"I don't want to see a prime minister locked up behind bars. I would also like to back the attorney general, who I am sure is doing his work professionally," he said of the four-day hearing Netanyahu is undergoing regarding the three corruption cases he is embroiled in.
Netanyahu responded to Gantz's remarks: "We’re making a great effort to try and form a broad national unity government, that’s what the voter has decided," he said, adding that his party garnered over a million votes, though it "wasn't enough to form a government." Gantz, Netanyahu said, "is trying to avoid this decision" and wants to alter the democratic process. "If we go together, we'll bring salvation to the Israeli people," he added.
Kahol Lavan co-leader Yair Lapid spoke up after Gantz, saying that he was willing to give up the rotation agreement he and Gantz have if the latter is able to agree with Netanyahu on the founding of a unity government. "We can't have a three-people rotation, it's not serious. The people of Israel deserve better," Lapid said. "Israel needs a unity government of Kahol Lavan with Likud and Lieberman."
Lapid also took a jab at Netanyahu, calling on him to "deal with health, security and education, not with bribery."
"A man facing three indictments is trying to drag us to an election," Lapid added.
Following Lapid's announcement Lieberman commended him saying, "I think this is an important and noble step on the part of Yair Lapid." Amir Peretz, chairman of Labor-Gesher, called on Gantz "not to wait until Netanyahu has the mandate" to make a deal and to begin establishing a new government, saying that his party would be first to sign a coalitional agreement with Kahol Lavan.