Benny Gantz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were granted Monday overnight a brief extension in unity talks, following a joint request to President Reuven Rivlin to extend the Kahol Lavan leader's mandate to form a coalition.
Rivlin gave Gantz until Wednesday at midnight to reach an agreement on a unity government that could tackle the coronavirus crisis.
The two leaders met for several hours on Monday night and again on Tuesday morning. They said they would reconvene on Wednesday.
This comes after talks had reached an impasse over the matter of appointing judges.
Gantz's mandate to form a coalition was set to expire at midnight on Monday, at which point it is will return to Israel's president, who is expected to give it to the Knesset. In such a scenario, any lawmaker who can secure 61 recommendations from the parliament will be able to build a coalition.
Israel has been operating under the auspices of a caretaker government for over a year, as three national election campaigns produced inconclusive results.
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Earlier, during a statement in which he announced an innercity curfew for the second holiday of Passover, Netanyahu said that efforts persist to form a unity government.
"Even if this doesn't happen by midnight, we will do everything within our power to promote this," he said.
Speaking after Netanyahu, Gantz said the two had reached agreements that he hoped the prime minister will fulfill. "This is our moment of truth, it's either an emergency national unity government or a redundant fourth election."
On Sunday, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin notified Gantz that he will not grant him an extension in forming a government.
Gantz told Rivlin on Saturday that he needed more time to reach a final agreement for a unity government with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud.
The president "made this decision after also speaking to Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu, who did not confirm [that he and Gantz] are close to signing an agreement that would lead to a unity government," a statement from Rivlin read.
According to a Channel 12 News poll, were an election to take place on Monday, Netanyahu’s Likud would earn 40 seats – four seats more than the party gained in the March 2 election. Kahol Lavan would see a significant drop with 19 seats in the poll, far short of the 33 seats they gained in March.
The Arab-majority Joint List would gain 15 seats, while Meretz, which last week split from Labor, would gain 5 seats. Meanwhile, Labor, the party’s whose progenitor formed the state of Israel, would not pass the electoral threshold. The ultra-Orthodox Shas earned 9 seats, Yamina 8, while United Torah Judaism and Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu would earn 7 seats. Gesher and the Kahanist Otzma Yehudit also did not make it into the Knesset in the poll.
Last week, Gantz said unity government negotiations were halted because of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s demands to interfere with the work of the Judicial Appointments Committee, which is the body that appoints judges to Israeli courts.
According to Kahol Lavan, Likud demanded to add a provision to the unity agreement that the committee will operate in coordination with a Likud minister representing the party in the panel.
Before that, an agreement between the two parties seemed almost finalized. The proposed coalition agreement would be have been enshrined in law through a detailed amendment to the Basic Law on the Government, legally reducing the government terms to three years, and automatically transferring the prime ministership to Gantz in eighteen months.
Crucially, according to the proposed law, if early elections are called or Netanyahu has to leave his post, Gantz would replace him.