Israel Election Results: Gantz Turns Down President's Co-premiership Offer

Netanyahu accepted the presidential offer that would see him keep the prime minister title in principle, but lose all powers to Gantz if indicted

Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz at an election campaign event in Ashkelon, Israel, April 3, 2019.
\ AMIR COHEN/ REUTERS

Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu agreed to President Reuven Rivlin’s model of two prime ministers in parallel, but Kahol Lavan chairman Benny Gantz rejected it, Haaretz has learned.

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Under the Rivlin proposal, which he outlined in a speech on Wednesday night, the government would be split evenly between the two blocs, with Gantz seeing his authority expanded should the prime minister be suspended.

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Rivlin did not mention Netanyahu’s legal situation in his speech, but was likely referring to the possibility that, under a coalition agreement, the premier would have to leave his post, at least temporarily, if indicted. In that case, Rivlin intimated, the effective powers of the premiership would go to the vice premier, while the incapacitated prime minister would retain the title and continue to live in the residence on Balfour Street.

The fact the proposal was publicized at the same time as the president was giving Netanyahu the mandate to form a government – a week ahead of his planned announcement – shows an attempt to generate public pressure on both candidates. Even if they don’t accept the presidential suggestion, it shows Rivlin at least attempted to find an implementable solution.

Israel's Basic Law on the Government deals with incapacity but doesn’t specify the circumstances under which a prime minister could become unable to fulfill his duties. Currently, the legal situation is that an indictment is not grounds for suspending a prime minister, unlike ministers, who must resign if facing indictment.

The part about incapacity in Rivlin’s proposal wasn’t entirely clear, and it could be that he was referring to a Netanyahu commitment to sit himself out if indicted, as part of a coalition agreement. Without such a commitment, the Likud chairman could continue to serve as prime minister if his case ever gets to trial.

Rivlin gave Netanyahu the mandate to form a government, after negotiations between the two parties on a unity government stalled. The president stressed that "the people don’t want another election" in his Wednesday speech. But Netanyahu's chances at forming a government are slim, and he could very well return the mandate to Rivlin within a week.