Israel Election: Netanyahu Likely to Tell President He Can't Form Government, His Likud Party Says

Sources involved in negotiations tell Haaretz Netanyahu may return the mandate to form a coalition as early as Sunday if talks are still at a deadlock by then

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks after being tasked by the president with forming a new government during a press conference in Jerusalem, September 25, 2019.
AFP

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to give back to President Reuven Rivlin the mandate to form a government, after Sunday's negotiations by party leaders did not resolves the deadlock.

Negotiation teams from Likud and Kahol Lavan met Sunday morning at the Knesset, but the two parties remained at an impasse. Both parties are trading accusations of dragging the country into a third round of elections.  

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Likud has yet to decide if it will return the mandate to form the government to the president on Sunday. The party can wait until the Rosh Hashana holiday ends on Tuesday night, or find another way to form a coalition with the other parties, though the chances of that are slim.   

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. Likud is insisting, it says, to stick to its bloc of 55 MKs and slogans "whose goal is to score points before the additional elections into which Netanyahu is dropping Israel."

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."   

A source involved in Likud talks with the different political outfits told Haaretz on Saturday that the premier may announce to the president that he is giving up efforts to build a government within a few days if Kahol Lavan's negotiation team remains adamant in its refusal to accept a plan proposed by Rivlin as a basic guideline for talks.

A different source told Haaretz that it remains unclear whether Netanyahu will announce to the president that he is incapable of forming a coalition as early as Sunday or only after the Jewish New Year, which will be celebrated in Israel this week. 

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. 

A spokesperson for Likud stated that the party's negotiation team was instructed by Netanyahu to "make every possible effort to promote a broad unity government according to the president's proposal in a meeting with Kahol Lavan Sunday morning."

However, the spokesman stated that if Gantz's party continues to reject Rivlin's plan and fails to suggest an alternative, "there is no point in wasting time and dragging the country into ongoing paralysis. If Kahol Lavan decide to stick to their rejection of the president's plan, it is highly likely that Netanyahu will return the mandate out of hope that maybe, toward the end of the three-week process, Kahol Lavan's people will understand that their hope to see a putsch in Likud or to witness the national union [the bloc of right-wing parties] disintegrating is baseless."

Likud's statement stressed that "even if it is decided to return the mandate, Likud will leave no stone unturned in efforts to achieve a broad unity government and prevent another election."

The negotiating teams of Likud and Kahol Lavan, led by Netanyahu rival Benny Gantz, 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, and the delegations decided to reconvene on Sunday. 

Kahol Lavan released a statement after the meeting saying that the Likud negotiation team insisted that "as a pre-condition, Kahol Lavan agree to a government with Netanyahu at the helm as prime minister and based on the bloc of 55 [right-wing lawmakers]." Kahol Lavan rejects these demands.

Kahol Lavan added that Likud knew in advance such a deal would not be acceptable and that "the two pre-conditions prove [Likud's] intention to send Israel to a third election, as the prime minister desires."