Kahol Lavan Chairman Benny Gantz vowed on Monday to "form a national unity government, as broad as possible, within days" after officially receiving the mandate from Israel's President Reuven Rivlin.
Gantz said his government would "heal the Israeli society of the coronavirus, as well of the virus of hatred and division."
"These are not normal days," Gantz said after receiving the mandate. "Leaders must put aside personal considerations." His government, he said, will represent the voters of all parties.
"I extend my elbow," Gantz added, referring to the new guidelines barring handshakes, and called on Benjamin Netanyahu to join his party's efforts "to heal the Israeli society." Referring to Netanyahu's upcoming corruption trial, Gantz said, "This process has been accompanied by illegitimate efforts by the current prime minister to evade justice. No man is bigger than the Israeli Zionist project."
“The coronavirus crisis is not the greatest crisis that we have faced. We have known existential, painful crises and we have come through them together,” Gantz said. “I urge all decision makers not to panic and to project serenity and security."
"I have always wanted unity. The time has come for Netanyahu to decide if that’s the way he wants to go," Gantz said. "The time has come to put aside the boycotts and destruction and to reconnect all the tribes of Israel and all the citizens of Israel. We will defeat the coronavirus and we will defeat hatred."
Rivlin officially tasked Gantz with forming a government after he received a narrow majority of recommendations from Knesset lawmakers Sunday.
Gantz will have 28 days to try and form a coalition, after which he may ask for a 14-day extension, in his attempt to end Israel’s ongoing political deadlock after the third election in under a year.
Rivlin urged Gantz "and all elected officials" to move swifly to form a government, arguing "a fourth election is impossible at this time of crisis."
Gantz spoke with Labor-Gesher-Meretz Chairman Amir Peretz and Yisrael Beiteinu's Avigdor Lieberman and told them he "intends to work for the formation of as broad a government as possible," and agreed to hold meetings with the two leaders in the coming days.
He also spoke with the leader of the Joint List of predominantly Arab parties, Ayman Odeh, the third largest party in the Knesset, and told him all options were currently on the table.
The former IDF chief-of-staff also went across the aisle, and reached out to the leaders of parties allied with Netanyahu's Likud. He invited Yamina leader and Defense Minister Naftali Bennett for a meeting. Bennett urged Gantz to enter an "emergency" unity government headed by Netanyahu, adding, that he will not meet with Gantz until Kahol Lavan "rids itself of the support of the Joint List, which supports terrorism."
Gantz also spoke to United Torah Judaism Chairman and Health Minister Yaakov Litzman and Shas Chairman and Interior Minister Arye Dery. Litzman refused to meet with him "at this point," while Dery said he is "represented by the bloc," referring to the 58-seat bloc of right-wing parties that support Netanyahu.
Later on Monday, Israel's 23rd Knesset will be sworn in in 40 rounds of three lawmakers at a time, in line with the latest Health Ministry regulations banning all gatherings of over ten people.
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, Netanyahu and Gantz are set to be the first triplet to be sworn in, and they will be the only lawmakers in parliament during Rivlin's inaugural speech.
Kahol Lavan intends to work quickly to attempt to form a national unity government. If the effort fails they will attempt to form a minority government with outside support from the Joint List alliance of Arab-majority parties within a week.
Netanyahu holds that Lieberman will not support a government alongside the Joint List alliance of Arab-majority parties, despite Lieberman’s recommendation and his cooperation with Kahol Lavan on the initiative to replace Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein. Given this, Netanyahu is not expected to relinquish his demand that he serve first as prime minister in a possible rotation deal with Gantz.
A Kahol Lavan official who spoke with Haaretz on condition of anonymity said that Edelstein’s decision to block his replacement as Knesset speaker and delay legislation has helped convince Lieberman, and Kahol Lavan MKs Zvi Hauser and Yoaz Hendel that they must get rid of Netanyahu, and not advance legislation, in order to restore sanity to Israel’s political system.
Sources in the bloc that supports Gantz have said they are working to advance the following plan: If no unity government is formed, and Knesset Speaker Edelstein is replaced by a vote in the Knesset, the bloc will push for two new pieces of legislation. The first would prevent anyone charged with crimes from serving as prime minister, while the second would revisit the direct election of the prime minister.
However, Edelstein said that he would not allow the Knesset to choose a new speaker because the move would torpedo efforts to form a unity government. Edelstein has the legal authority to block the effort by not bringing the proposal up for a vote.
Even if Edelstein didn’t object to the move, the Knesset still hasn’t figured out how to hold a vote on anything because of the coronavirus restrictions banning gatherings of more than 10 people.
Although Kahol Lavan is determined to hold a vote Monday, a Knesset source said there is no procedure for lawmakers voting when they are not in the plenum. Under the Basic Law on the Knesset and the Knesset regulations, lawmakers who plan to vote must all be in the plenum at one time; they cannot vote in shifts.
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