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Gantz After Meeting Netanyahu: Three Elections Are Bad, but We Won't Abandon Our Principles

Gantz's mandate to form coalition expires Wednesday ■ Netanyahu and Gantz meet in last effort to form unity government ■ Is Israel headed to a third election? Analyses and updates

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz. Credit: Amir Cohen/Reuters, Reuters/Pool

With only a day left until his mandate to form a government expires, Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz continues his attempt to secure a coalition after an unfruitful meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been claiming that a Gantz-led minority government backed by the country's Arab parties would be a "national attack on the State of Israel."

Netanyahu and the Likud negotiation team met with President Reuven Rivlin Tuesday evening. Following the meeting, Rivlin condemned the recent attacks on Arab lawmakers, saying that it is unacceptable to refer to them as "threats" or "a fifth column."

On Monday, Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman issued an ultimatum to Gantz and Netanyahu, telling them to both agree to Rivlin's outline for a unity government - which calls for Netanyahu to part with his 55-seat right-wing bloc and that Gantz let Netanyahu act as premier first in a rotation agreement - by Wednesday noon, or "it's every man for himself."   

>> Is Gantz really about to become prime minister? Panicking Bibi thinks he might | Analysis

Latest updates:

1:13 A.M. Resolution to be submitted to Likud central committee scrapping new party primary

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party has announced that Netanyahu and the chairman of the party's central committee, Haim Katz, will introduce a central committee resolution that would scrap a party primary for the Likud Knesset slate in the event that a third round of Knesset elections is necessary.

"In light of concern that the country will sink into unnecessary elections, and following a large number of requests from Likud Knesset members, [Katz and Netanyahu have agreed] to submit a joint resolution to the Likud central committee that primaries for the Likud Knesset list will not be held," the statement said.

If the resolution passes, the Likud's slate of candidates in a third round of Knesset elections early next year would be the same as the slate in the most recent election on September 17. There is still no agreement on cancelling an internal party vote on the leader of the party, who is currently Netanyahu. If a third round of Knesset elections is held, however, Netanyahu is expected to also seek to scrap a vote on the party's leader, in the process foiling possible leadership bids by other Likud Knesset members, notably Gideon Sa'ar, who has already announced his intention to run for the leadership.

12:19 A.M. Gantz after meeting Netanyahu: Three election rounds are bad, but we won't abandon our principles

Gantz said after meeting with Netanyahu in a statement on Twitter that "the unity government must conisist of the two biggest parties, it cannot rely on sectoral blocs." He was likely alluding to Netanyahu's unwillingness to join a government without his right-wing allies. 

Gantz and Lieberman meet in Tel Aviv, November 19, 2019.Credit: Elad Malka

"Third elections are bad, but tprinciples and values cannot be put aside," he also said.

Netanyahu also said after the meeting: "I realized today in a meeting with Gantz that he rejects the president's outline and willfully ignores the majority of the people who will establish a broad national unity government together."

He also said "Gantz intends to form a minority government that relies on the abstention of the Joint List." The Prime Minister added that he will meet with Avigdor Lieberman again on Wednesday.

11:30 P.M. Netanyahu-Gantz meeting ends

10:22 P.M. Netanyahu and Gantz meeting begins in Jerusalem

10:04 P.M. Netanyahu calls for unity government that will annex Jordan Valley

Netanyahu said that he called on Gantz and Lieberman "to establish a broad unity government, that will safeguard the security of Israel and annex the Jordan Valley."

9:22 P.M. Disagreements between president and Netanyahu on rotation

The subject of a rotation of prime ministers arose in President Reuven Rivlin's meeting with Netanyahu, with the main issue being when Netanyahu's "incapacitation" would begin.

The agreement would see Netanyahu and Gantz sharing the premiership, but Netanyahu leaving office should he become "incapacitated," supposedly referring to the filing of an indictment against him. The president refused to support the Likud team's assertion that his incapacitation would only begin during a trial, and stuck to the idea of Netanyahu leading the rotation with Gantz. 

Political sources who are familiar with the content of the meeting assessed that there are two possible plans on the table: a unity government, or a rightist-ultra-Orthodox minority government supported by Lieberman. the chances of another round of elections, they say, are less likely. 

9:19 P.M. Odeh to Rivlin: Great job in "reminding us of the obvious" in condemning "existential threat" remarks

In response to President Reuven Rivlin's statement that "We must condemn presenting Arab elected officials as an existential threat," Joint List leader Ayman Odeh wrote on twitter, "It's important to remind us of the obvious, too. Way to go." 

9:15 P.M. Democratic Union's Horowitz to president:Netanyahu's "incitement spree" cannot be allowed to continue

After meeting with President Reuven Rivlin, Democratic Union leader Nitzan Horowitz released a statement saying that he emphasized that the deligitimization spree against the Arab public cannot be allowed to continue, and urged the president to condemn it. "The incitement spree that is carrying Netanyahu in the past days is a racist shame," he said. "It is enormous damage to the State of Israel."  

Horowitz said that talk of "unity" cannot be a fig leaf for giving up on a center-left government, supported by the Joint List. He also added that a unity government plan will allow Netanyahu to rule while under indictment, rescue him from standing trial and allow his incitement to continue.  

8:46 P.M. After Netanyahu-Gantz meeting, pessimism about forming a government from both sides

Following the Netanyahu-Gantz meeting, both sides are very pessimistic about a breakthrough in negotiations to form a government, sources on both sides say.

No progress was made on the subject of a rotation of prime ministers, and sources say Likud refuses to discuss details until Kahol Lavan publicly declares that Netanyahu will go first. Kahol Lavan will not do so out of fear that this declaration will not bring about a solution, and they will enter a third election empty-handed.

Those close to Gantz fear that Lieberman will prefer a minority government with the ultra-Orthodox parties to elections, leaving Gantz either in a Netanyahu government or in the opposition. 

8:40 P.M. After Likud meeting, Rivlin condemns statements on Arab MKs

“Statements that have been made about the Arab and ultra-Orthodox communities and their Knesset representatives undermine the legitimacy of these communities and deepen the already existing rift,” Rivlin said. “I ask everyone to whom the state of Israel is dear to stop these ugly statements once and for all.

“A portrayal of all elected Arab representatives as an existential threat to Israel or a fifth column must be vehemently denounced,” he continued, in a clear reference to Netanyahu's statements. “We live as sovereigns in our own land, in a Jewish and democratic state of Israel, and we must ensure equal rights and a dignified, substantive conversation with all Israeli citizens.”

Rivlin acknowledged that Arab MKs sometimes say things about Israel, and especially Israeli soldiers, that he considers unacceptable. Nevertheless, he said, that doesn’t justify treating them as a fifth column or an existential threat.

Earlier on Tuesday, Knesset Finance Committee Chairman Moshe Gafni of the United Torah Judaism party also pushed back against such rhetorical attacks, by publicly thanking MK Ahmad Tibi (Joint List) for “the constant cooperation between us.” Rivlin praised Gafni’s statement in his own remarks.

8:22 P.M. Gantz and Lieberman meet

Gantz and Lieberman are meeting in Kahol Lavan's Tel Aviv offices. 

7:55 P.M. Meeting between president, Netanyahu has begun

President Reuven Rivlin is meeting with Netanyahu and Likud MKs and  ministers Yariv Levin and Zeev Elkin at the President's Residence.

6:09 P.M. Labor's Amir Peretz: We won't join a Netanyahu government

In a tweet, Labor-Gesher chairman Amir Peretz wrote, "We promised Israel's citizens change and hope, and we therefore will not sit in any government headed by Netanyahu"

5:37 P.M. Gantz and Lieberman will meet

Benny Gantz and Avigdor Lieberman will meet at 8:00 P.M. in Kahol Lavan's Tel Aviv offices, a joint statement said.

5:28 P.M. President to meet with Democratic Union head

President Reuven Rivlin will meet with Democratic Union party leader Nitzan Horowitz at the President's residence in Jerusalem at 6:00 P.M. 

4:29 P.M. Kahol Lavan and Likud negotiation teams meet

The two parties are discussing President Reuven Rivlin's suggestion of a rotation, and Kahol Lavan is trying to ensure that Netanyahu will in fact allow another candidate to lead.

2:30 P.M. Kahol Lavan sources say no significant progress on unity government ahead of leaders' meeting

Members of Kahol Lavan told Haaretz that at this stage no significant progress has been made toward the formation of a unity government bringing together opposition leader Benny Gantz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Nothing will move until the meeting between Gantz and Netanyahu happens Tuesday night, they said.

1:00 P.M. Netanyahu, Gantz to meet tonight

Prime Minister Netanyahu and opposition leader Benny Gantz have announced they will be meeting on Tuesday night amid last-ditch efforts to form a coalition government. 

12:30 P.M. If Gantz fails, what happens next? Four scenarios

Should Benny Gantz fail to form a governing coalition by the time his mandate to do so expires on Wednesday at midnight, four possible scenarios could shape Israel's political map.Read more here 

10:30 A.M. Netanyahu, Lieberman, meet amid coalition talks

Prime Minister Netanyahu met with Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman met at the Prime Minister office in Jerusalem on Tuesday morning. In a joint statement the two parties said the meeting was good and productive toward the goal of forming a unity government.

9:57 A.M. Netanyahu and Lieberman to meet Tuesday

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman are scheduled to meet Tuesday morning as part of the coalition-building negotiations. Lieberman on Monday issued an ultimatum, giving Netanyahu and Gantz until Wednesday at 12 P.M. to reach a deal on a unity government.