Israel Election: Netanyahu Calls Gantz in Last-ditch Effort to Form Unity Government Before Returning Mandate

Gantz and Netanyahu's negotiation teams will meet Wednesday, the same day that the prime minister's pre-indictment hearings begin

Netanyahu sits next to Gantz at the memorial for Shimon Peres, who formed a national unity government with Yitzhak Shamir in 1984.
\ Ronen Zvulun/ REUTERS

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Kahol Lavan Chairman Benny Gantz on Sunday and asked him to meet immediately after the holiday in a last attempt to form a unity government before returning the mandate to President Reuven Rivlin, Likud said.

After negotiation teams failed to reach an agreement Sunday morning, Netanyahu phoned Gantz, who is in London, and recommended that the two meet immediately upon Gantz's return to Israel on Wednesday. The prime minister even offered to come to Gantz's home, a Likud statement said.

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Negotiation teams for the two parties will meet again on Wednesday at 10 A.M. at the Knesset. Netanyahu will likely meet with Gantz in the evening. Also on Wednesday, Netanyahu's pre-indictment hearings regarding the corruption cases against him are slated to begin.

At the end of their conversation, the two leaders wished a happy new year to each other and to all of Israel's citizens.

In response, Kahol Lavan said, "We are again calling for direct negotiations between Likud and Kahol Lavan based on the principles of a broad, liberal unity government. That is our objective and we will make every effort so that at the start of this new year we can advance that path." Kahol Lavan added that negotiations are the only way to avoid "an excessive third election."

Negotiation teams from Likud and Kahol Lavan met Sunday morning at the Knesset, but the two parties remained at an impasse.  

Kahol Lavan released a statement saying that "Likud is stuck on 'Bibi will start,'" referring to the rotation of prime ministers in a unity government. Kahol Lavan also objects to Likud's insistance on including its entire bloc of 55 right-wing MKs in the coalition.

Kahol Lavan added, "The State of Israel needs a broad, stable and liberal unity government led by Benny Gantz - for this purpose and this purpose only we will continue to act."

Likud, meanwhile, released a statement bemoaning the "great disappointment" of Kahol Lavan's continuous refusal to accept the unity government proposed by President Reuven Rivlin, a rotation between Netanyahu and Gantz. 

"The fact that Kahol Lavan rejects the only possibility of a unity government proves that Kahol Lavan made the strategic decision to slam the door shut on a unity government and drag the country into elections," the statement said. "Prime Minister Netanyahu will put in a last effort to find a possibility for forming a government at this stage, before returning the mandate (to establish a governing coaltion) to the president."   

Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman chided the two party leaders on his Facebook page Sunday, calling on them to put aside their differences. "I'm calling on you, Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz, on Likud and on Kahol Lavan, who have 65 Knesset seats together," he wrote. "You don't need Yisrael Beiteinu or any other party to form a government. The citizens of Israel will not forgive you if you drown us in another round of elections out of personal issues and ego." 

There are few ideological difference sbetween Likud and Kahol Lavan, Lieberman wrote, noting that Likud voters chose the party's moderate list rather than ultra-Orthodox or far-right candidates. "Another round of elections will not bring different results, just national disaster and economic paralysis in your names." 

On Friday, the negotiation teams of Likud and Kahol Lavan met for the first time since President Rivlin tasked Netanyahu with attempting to form a government.

The negotiating teams of Likud and Kahol Lavan held their first meeting on Friday since the prime minister was selected to try and form a coalition. The meeting, which lasted four hours, ended with no agreement on a national unity government.

Before giving Netanyahu the mandate to form a government, Rivlin first proposed to Netanyahu and Gantz a framework in which the two would serve together, in practice, as co-prime ministers.

Netanyahu agreed, but Gantz refused after much consideration. Rivlin proposed a government of two equal sized blocs, in which the responsibilities of the co-premier would be expanded if the prime minister is “incapacitated” for whatever reason - which could include potential indictment in Netanyahu's ongoing corruption investigations. 

Netanyahu's pre-indictment hearing regarding the corruption cases against him is slated to begin on Wednesday.