Israel Election Results: Rivlin Stalls Decision on Who Forms Government as Gantz, Netanyahu Teams Begin Unity Talks

Negotiations teams representing Likud and Kahol Lavan convened a day after the party leaders met, in what President Rivlin described as 'a significant step'

President Reuven Rivlin speaking to the press at the President's Residence, September 2019.
Olivier Fitoussi

President Reuven Rivlin will delay his decision of whether he will give the mandate to form a government to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or Kahol Lavan's Benny Gantz until next Wednesday. 

Haaretz Weekly Ep. 41Haaretz

On Wednesday afternoon, Central Election Committee Head Hanan Melcer is expected to present the final results of the election to Rivlin. Because the option of a unity government remains on the table, Rivlin intends to wait to declare which candidate he chooses to form a government until seven days later - the latest date permitted by Israeli law.

Coincidentally, Wednesday, October 2, is also the day Israel's attorney-general will begin pre-indictment hearings in Benjamin Netanyahu's corruption affairs, heralding the beginning of a legal process that has weighty consequences of the PM's political career.

Netanyahu and Gantz will convene for a dinner at the President's Residence next Wednesday evening. At the same time, Likud and Kahol Lavan negotiators will hold a meeting in an attempt to make progress on dialogue between them.

Gantz, Netanyahu and Rivlin at the memorial for former-Prime Minister Shimon Peres, September 19, 2019.
Marc Sellam / GPO
Likud's Yariv Levin arrives for negotiations at Kfar Maccabiah, September 24, 2019.
Tomer Appelbaum

>> Read more: How Avigdor Lieberman has made himself King Bibi's regicide ■ Israeli Arab party must recommend Gantz as prime minister, or Netanyahu will be back | Analysis ■ The government that Israel must have | Ehud Barak

Negotiation teams representing Likud and Kahol Lavan met Tuesday at Kfar Maccabiah to begin negotiations for forming a national unity government, after Gantz and Netanyahu met with Rivlin on Monday.

The president said the two leaders made "significant steps" toward forming a government together, after neither managed to obtain the necessary 61-seat majority following Tuesday's election. (Who is Benny Gantz? Meet the man who might be Israel's next prime minister)

"We took a significant step this evening, and now the main challenge is building a direct channel of communication out of trust between the two sides," the president said Monday of the prime minister and Kahol Lavan leader, who are locked in a stalemate as both insist on being first to serve as prime minister in a future rotation deal. 

But people involved in the coalition negotiations between Kahol Lavan and Likud were pessimistic about the talks on Tuesday evening. "If [President Reuven Rivlin] doesn't pull a rabbit out of his hat, success is doubtful," said one source, who, like others who spoke to Haaretz, requested anonymity.

Tuesday's discussion between Yariv Levin and Yoram Turbowicz, the heads of the negotiating teams for Likud and Kahol Lavan, respectively, had not improved the likelihood of the two parties forming a unity government, the sources said. The meeting lasted only an hour or so, too brief for an in-depth exploration of the differences between the sides. Contrary to news reports, Likud and Kahol Lavan were not even close to discussing the nature of the rotating premiership, the sources said, one of the main obstacles to reaching an agreement.

The head of Kahol Lavan's negotiation team, Yoram Turbowicz, arrives at Kfar Hamaccabiah, September 24, 2019.
Haim Tzach / GPO

Sources in Kahol Lavan also criticized Netanyahu's claim to speak on behalf of the entire Israeli right in the coalition talks. They said their party will not join a coalition that includes all the right-wing parties, adding that Kahol Lavan was committed to its partners and its platform. At the same time, they said, Kahol Lavan would not object to Netanyahu serving in a cabinet led by Gantz, unless or until Netanyahu is indicted.  

"The nation expects you to find a solution and avoid another election, out of costs both personal and sometimes ideological," Rivlin said. "This is not the time for boycotts." 

Netanyahu secured 55 recommendations –  from his own Likud party, the ultra-Orthodox parties Shas and United Torah Judaism and right-wing alliance Yamina. Gantz got 54 recommendations –  from his own party, from Labor-Gesher's six elected representatives and the Democratic Union's five as well as from the Arab Joint List.

While Gantz received the official endorsement of the Joint List, that moved was stunted when Balad – one of the four parties that make up the alliance – decided not to recommend Gantz as the suitable candidate to form a government. It is rare for an Arab-majority party to reccommend any candidate for prime minister, and such a move has not occured since the Hadash faction supported the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1992.

Meanwhile, Mansour Abbas, head of United Arab List-Balad (part of the Joint Arab slate) confirmed on Tuesday to Haaretz that he spoke with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's aide after April's election.

Mansour's comments came after a radio station made a prank call to an outgoing lawmaker in his party, Abd al-Hakim Hajj Yahya. The caller pretended to be Netanyahu, and asked Yahya if he could count on his help to form a government. Yahya replied by saying he could help, mentioning the past "chemistry" between his party and Netanyahu aide Natan Eshel. 

The Arab Joint List voted with Netanyahu to dissolve the Knesset after the April election, but it's his rival Gantz who has drawn fire from the right in recent days for winning the Joint List's endorsement for prime minister.