With nine days until his mandate to form a government expires, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offered Defense Minister Benny Gantz the first slot in a rotation deal for the premiership, sources in Gantz's inner circle said Sunday.
According to sources familiar with the conversation, Gantz did not reject the deal outright, but told Netanyahu that he doesn't "see how this comes together." According to the sources, the deal Netanyahu proposed also allows Gantz to maintain the defense portfolio.
Throughout the election campaign leading up to Israel's March election, Gantz vowed not to cooperate with Netanyahu again, following the implosion of the unity government formed after the previous election and the deteriorating relationship between the two.
Political sources believe that Gantz seeks to gain leverage in coalition talks by making this conversation public. In talks with the anti-Netanyahu bloc, which hopes to form a government after Netanyahu's mandate expires, Gantz is hoping to hold on to the defense portfolio. Sources say Gideon Sa'ar is also interested in the defense minister post and Netanyahu's offer could give Gantz the necessary edge in negotiations.
The publication of the conversation also helps Netanyahu minimize the perceived importance of Yamina's Naftali Bennett in ongoing coalition talks to form a right-wing government, sources said.
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Sources in Netanyahu's inner circle say that he is weighing forming a government with another candidate serving first as prime minister under a rotation deal. The pro-Netanyahu bloc hopes that such a deal would allow Sa'ar, who objects to serving under Netanyahu, to join a right-wing government. The proposed rotation deal would allow Netanyahu to return to the premiership in a year or two.
Alongside offering such a deal to Gantz, sources say that Netanyahu plans to offer the position to senior Likud members, including Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin or Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz.