Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and rival Benny Gantz made "significant steps" in negotiations over the formation of a new government on Monday evening at the President's Residence in Jerusalem, President Reuven Rivlin said. (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 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.
"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."
Rivlin summoned them for the meeting following two days of consultations with Israeli party leaders in order to decide which of them should be given the mandate to try and form a governing coalition, after neither managed to obtain the necessary 61-seat majority following Tuesday's election.
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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 the Israeli Arab party announced that it endorses Gantz, that moved was stunted by the decision of Balad – one of the four parties that make up the alliance – not to recommend Gantz to Rivlin as the suitable candidate to form a government. The party's endorsement was rare, since it which did not back a prime ministerial candidate since the Hadash faction supported the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1992.
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Six days into negotiations, no progress made
"It is our responsibility to bring about a situation that will establish a government that will bring stability, dialogue and a closing of the rifts in our country," Rivlin told Gantz and Netanyahu as their meeting began.
At this point, six days after the election, there has been no progress in negotiations. With the exception of the meeting with the president, there has been no contact between Kahol Lavan and Likud. Both sides have self-appointed mediators, but Kahol Lavan is proceeding with caution, and is still formulating its negotiation strategy.
Likud wants to be first to work toward forming a government. The party is operating of the belief that the moment that authority falls into its hands, it will have 42 days to formulate media spin and make promises in the hopes that Gantz will enter a unity government with Netanyahu. Likud would rather there be no rotation for the role of prime minister, but is prepared to give Gantz the last year as an assurance.
Likud is insisting to be first in the rotation on account of "governmental continuity," in the words of a negotiation staff member from the right-wing bloc. The party's talking point in upcoming interviews is that they have no preconditions and everything is on the table, but in practice, leading the rotation is a central demand of its joining.
Kahol Lavan is also not hanging much hope on the meeting between Gantz and Netanyahu at the President's Residence. Especially with the clear demands that the party made in the past day: Gantz is expected to demand to be first in the rotation with Likud and serve two years as prime minister. Party sources clarified that the process leaves Netanyahu, in the first stage, outside the government. This would let Kahol Lavan keep its campaign promise that it will not sit in a shared government with the current prime minister.
Also Monday, Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman, who emerged again as the kingmaker of this election, met with Gantz. The two tweeted that they "exchanged opinions and impressions," and that they would "talk again later if necessary."
After his meeting with Gantz on Monday, Lieberman took to Facebook to explain in a post that during their meeting, he “repeated and clarified what I have said since the beginning of the election campaign. For Yisrael Beiteinu, there is only one option on the table, and it is the establishment of a unity government with the three parties: Yisrael Beiteinu, Likud and Kahol Lavan.”