With Less Than a Week to Go, Gantz Rejects Netanyahu's Outline for Unity Government

The plan presented by the prime minister, whose mandate to form a coalition expires Wednesday, ignores Kahol Lavan's demand to break up the right-wing bloc, and makes no mention of a rotation of the premiership

Netanyahu, Rivlin and Gantz meet at the president's residence, September 2019.
Haim Tzach / GPO

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu published an outline for establishing a broad national unity government Thursday, which was quickly rejected by Kahol Lavan Chairman Benny Gantz.

The outline, which Netanyahu presented to Gantz by phone, is based on the guidelines set forward by President Reuven Rivlin for establishing a unity government, but ignores Kahol Lavan's demand to break up the right-wing bloc as a precondition to coalition talks. The plan also makes no mention of a rotation of the premiership or an arrangement for such a rotation.

Netanyahu's plan, presented less than a week before his Wedenesday deadline to secure a coalition, suggests maintaining the status quo for a year. This would prevent Kahol Lavan from fulfilling its pledge to voters on matter of religion, such as public transportation on Shabbat and civil unions.

Netanyahu also proposed that the government set targets for the number of ultra-Orthodox men drafted into the army, in opposition to Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman's demand. Further, Netanyahu proposed allowing the coalition members to vote their conscience on the conscription law, meaning the ultra-Orthodox parties and Yisrael Beiteinu could vote against it.

Gantz said it was "impossible not to refuse" such a proposal. "We'll wait to receive the president's offer to form the government and then we'll begin serious negotiations to establish a liberal unity government," Gantz said. Netanyahu has less than a week left until the 28-day period to form a government expires. After the period expires, President Rivlin can allow Netanyahu a two week extension, or transfer the mandate to Gantz.

“I just called MK Benny Gantz and suggested a compromise for the establishment of a broad national unity government,” Netanyahu said in a video he posted on social media. "This is the only government that can be established now and this is the only government that must be established now.”

Netanyahu added: “All Israelis are looking around and see the Middle East changing before our very eyes – changing for the worse. Those who need to know, know that the security challenges we face are only growing, and they will not wait for us.”

Should Netanyahu fail to secure a governing coalition by Wednesday, President Rivlin may tap another lawmaker, most likely Gantz, to lead another round of coalition talks. If those fail, too, any lawmaker backed by a majority of at least 61 Knesset members would be the next one to have a go at forming a coalition.

In the diplomatic sphere, Netanyahu's plan suggests that he and Gantz form a unified position with regard to President Donald Trump’s peace plan, and with regard to Israel extending its sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and the northern Dead Sea.

In the economic sphere, Netanyahu proposed that the government approve a set target for the budget deficit and prioritize security spending. The state budget would be passed within three months of establishing the government.

Netanyahu made no mention of plans for social programs; these would only be determined later on.

In the realm of defense, Netanyahu proposed establishing a security cabinet with an equal number of ministers from the right and the left, unconnected to the size of the blocs in the Knesset. The cabinet would have six weeks to approve an updated multi-annual security plan, and funds would be allocated and transferred even before the state budget is passed. “This decision is urgently necessary in light of the increasing security challenges,” Netanyahu said.

According to Rivlin’s plan, the government would be established with blocs of equal size, in which the powers of the deputy prime minister would be expanded if the sitting prime minister becomes incapacitated. Rivlin did not explicitly say that this part of the plan references Netanyahu's legal situation, but it seems he intented that Netanyahu pledge to declare himself incapacitated if indicted. In such a case, Rivlin proposed, the powers of the sitting prime minister would pass to his deputy, while the prime minister would continue to hold the title and live in the official Balfour Street residence in Jerusalem.

Kahol Lavan issued a response to Netanyahu's plan: "The outgoing prime minister's conduct, now and over the last period, shows that he is not aiming for unity but for immunity. Today as well, he is not prepared to negotiate directly, and today, too, he refuses to recognize that most Israelis voted for a liberal unity government without extremists. There is a reason that the outgoing prime minister's proposal does not reference the most important issue – maintaining moral standards and the rule of law."