Netanyahu and Gantz Discuss Emergency Unity Government in Rare Phone Call

Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson
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People walk on a bridge under an election campaign billboard for Benny Gantz's Kahol Lavan party in Ramat Gan, February 18, 2020.
People walk on a bridge under an election campaign billboard for Benny Gantz's Kahol Lavan party in Ramat Gan, February 18, 2020.Credit: Oded Balilty / AP
Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Kahol Lavan Chairman Benny Gantz spoke on Wednesday for the first time in 12 days, and discussed the possibility of forming an emergency unity government in light of the coronavirus outbreak.

Both parties initially denied that the phone call took place. Later Wednesday night, Netanyahu’s Likud party and Gantz’s Kahol Lavan put out a joint statement, however, confirming the two spoke.

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“Against the backdrop of the worsening coronavirus epidemic and the president’s appeal [for unity], the two ordered negotiation teams to return to talks tomorrow (Thursday) to examine the possibility of forming an emergency national unity government,” the statement said.

The contact between the two rivals could indicate a possible way out of Israel’s ongoing consitutitional crisis amid calls for unity, as the state works to contain the virus, with well over 2,000 confirmed cases.

This is the second time Netanyahu and Gantz spoke since Israel’s March 2 election, the country’s third within a year. Their first phone call kickstarted talks between them on a potential unity government, which have so far been at a stalemate.

Until Tuesday evening, Likud has led a harsh front against Gantz and his party, claiming that if Kahol Lavan replace Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, all negotiations will end, leading to a fourth election cycle.

Edelstein eventually resigned on Wednesday, rather than obey a High Court decision ordering him to hold a vote to determine a new speaker. Edelstein's decision not to uphold the ruling was condemned by the president and attorney general, and stalled the Knesset vote once more after he had previously postponed it.

This also gave Gantz's center-left bloc less time to pass legislation that would bar Netanyahu from serving as prime minister while under indictment before Gantz's current mandate to form a government expires 

Edelstein's decision all but ensures his replacement in a vote next week, but Netanyahu and Gantz discussed unity nonetheless, despite Likud’s threats.

Several proposals for an emeregency government have been laid out, some with Gantz temporarily joining it or staying out of it altogether. After a specified amount of time, which the parties would agree on, Gantz should get back the mandate to form a coalition, which he currently holds.

Meanwhile, Channel 13 News reported the parties have agreed on a Kahol Lavan nomination for the Justice Ministry, but both denied that report. 

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