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Hours Before Deadline, Gantz Tells President He Has Failed to Form a Coalition

Lawmakers have 21 days for coalition talks, but no solution in sight ■ Lieberman blames both Gantz and Netanyahu for political deadlock ■ Netanyahu says willing to enter dialogue with Gantz 'without pre-conditions' ■ Is Israel headed to a third election? Analyses and updates

Lieberman speaking to his Yisrael Beiteinu faction in the Knesset, November 20, 2019

Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz announced Wednesday he was unable to establish a governing coalition, hours before his midnight deadline for negotiations. 

>> Read Haaretz’s wrap-up of Wednesday’s political developments

>> Read more: Hours before deadline, Gantz tells president he has failed to form a coalition ■ Four Scenarios: What Happens Next after Benny Gantz Failed to Form a Government ■ Lieberman Is Still on His Mission to Depose Netanyahu ■ Netanyahu and Gantz Both Failed to Form a Governing Coalition. What Happens Now?

Returning the mandate to form a coalition to President Reuven Rivlin, Gantz has effectively plunged Israel's political sphere into even greater uncertainty, raising the stakes for a third election cycle within a year.

After two failed rounds of unity talks, the first led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately after the September 17 election and the second by Gantz, any Knesset member with the backing of at least 61 lawmakers would be tasked with forming a coalition. Lawmakers have 21 days to nominate a candidate.

This is the first time in Israel's history that two candidates have failed to form a coalition. 

Earlier on Wednesday, Avigdor Lieberman, seen as Israel's kingmaker in government talks, said he would not support any kind of minority government, either one backed by the Arab parties or a narrow one with the 55-seat right-wing bloc backing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Lieberman blamed both Netanyahu and Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz for the political deadlock, saying both men refused to budge from their positions for personal reasons. (Read further: The four scenarios)

Latest updates:

8:37 P.M. Netanyahu reiterates call for unity government, urges Gantz to continue unity efforts

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated Benny Gantz's remarks that Israel needs a unity government, adding he will refrain from responding to the Kahol Lavan leader's "absurd statement" accusations that the premier put his own best interest before that of the people.     

"Israel needs a unity government. We all know what we are up against today, we are in the midst of a campaign against Iran on different fronts. For Israel's security, for the will of the people, for inner reconciliation, we must form a unity government. We are facing historical opportunities and tremendous challenges, and therefore we cannot afford to lose a single minute," Netanyahu said.

"I'm willing to immediately enter a dialogue with you, without pre-conditions, in order to establish a unity government. If we'll go together, we'll succeed," the premier said, addressing Gantz.        

7:50 P.M. Benny Gantz says cannot form government, returns mandate to form coalition to Rivlin

The Kahol Lavan leader told President Reuven Rivlin that he had failed to form a government, and returned the mandate to do so.

Nevertheless, Gantz told Rivlin he is committed to do everything in his power to help form a governing coalition in the 21-day period left before a new election is called, and thanked the president for his help in negotiation talks.

"In the past 28 days no stone was left unturned while we tried to form a government that would bring Israel a leadership of dignity, morals and values, a leadership that has been forgotten," Gantz said.

"The [right-wing] bloc stood firm, insisting to only see the best interest of one person, before that of the patients lying in hospital corridorsת" Gantz said in reference to Israel's dire health system.  

Gantz said there were those who insisted to prevent from Israel's citizens to march toward an era of political sanity.

"Preventing Israel's citizens a government led by those who were elected to do so in a clear and decisive manner is a dangerous move, one of its kind in Israel's history," Gantz said.

"No secular, Arab or religious party is above the people's best interest. No leader has a right to tell the people ‘my personal interest takes precedence over the people’s interest,'" he said, adding that since he had entered politics I've proven that don't cave to any kind of threats," he said.

6:29 P.M. Netanyahu party officials say agreement with Kahol Lavan was thwarted by Lapid, Ya'alon

Likud officials said that an agreement with Benny Gantz's Kahol Lavan was foiled by the party's senior officials, Yair Lapid and Moshe Ya'alon.

According to the officials, both parties' negotiation teams were close to agreeing that Netanyahu would serve first under a rotating premiership agreement, that he would declare incapacity and take an immediate leave within six months to a year if an indictment is filed against him, and that the right-wing bloc wouldn't be dismantled.

6:21 P.M. 'We are ready for another election, says Joint List lawmaker

4:46 P.M. Netanyahu: 'I know what the people wants, because I see the tea ladies'

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he knows "what the people wants — a unity government. I know because I walk the streets and I see the tea ladies."  

4:04 P.M. Hayamin Hehadash's Ayelet Shaked pushes for unity government

Far-right Hayamin Hehadash's Ayelet Shaked said every effort should be invested in order to form a unity government.

"It's true that [Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman] Avigdor Lieberman has put some obstacles in our way, but it doesn't mean we can overcome them. The Entire right-wing bloc is unified, and dragging Israel into a third round of election [within a year] is irresponsible," Shaked said.       

4 P.M. Shas blames Lieberman for the failure to form a national unity government

Shas Chairman Arye Dery accused Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's and Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz's inability to form a national unity government.

"There is only one person to blame, and it's Lieberman. With great talent, he did everything in his power to prevent Netanyahu and Ganzt from giving each other some slack," Dery said.

The Shas chairman added he would do everything to form a unity government without Kahol Lavan co-leader Yair Lapid. "The public knows the country hasn't been functioning for a whole year because Lieberman has playing with everyone. [A unity government] will be formed without Liberman and Lapid," Dery said. 

3:56 P.M. Netanyahu calls on Gantz to drop his partners, join him in unity government; Dery blasts Lieberman for deadlock

The prime minister called on his challenger Benny Gantz to "free himself from the veto" of party co-leader partner Yair Lapid, and accept to establish a unity government - presumably with his far-right partners. "The state must not go to third elections," the prime minister said.

Netanyahu said he would consider any partners in a unity government, and refuted claims made by Lieberman early in the afternoon (see below) that his party was held hostage by ultra-Orthodox parties. Arye Dery, chairman of the Sephardi ultra-Orthodox Shas party, blamed the Yisrael Beiteinu leader for the fading prospect of a unity government.

Lieberman skilfully did everything so that Netanyahu and Gantz would not come towards each other," Dery said. "He is the only one who introduced Gantz to the idea of a minority government. Nobody else did it." 

2:00 P.M. Likud offered Kahol Lavan's Gantz a year as prime minister before Netanyahu would resume office, Likud negotiator Zeev Elkin says

Zeev Elkin, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party's negotiating team, said Wednesday that his party had offered Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz the option of serving first as prime minister for a year in a unity government rotation arrangement in which after the year, Netanyahu would again take office as prime minister.

Kahol Lavan sources confirmed that the offer had been made, but said it was conditioned on Netanyahu being given immunity from prosecution in the criminal cases pending against him. Elkin denied that there was any such condition.

1:17 P.M. Lieberman says he 'did everything' to bring about unity government

Speaking to his Knesset faction on Wednesday, Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman said he had "done everything" to bring about a unity government. He took both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz to task for what he said was their failure to compromise on the issue. "One wasn’t prepared to accept the president's plan," he said, referring to Gantz's response to President Reuven Rivlin's plan for a national unity government, and "Netanyahu wasn't prepared to separate from his ultra-Orthodox-messianic bloc."

Both Likud and Kahol Lavan are responsible for the current situation, he said. Netanyahu tried to drag things out during the negotiations, while at the same time, Kahlol Lavan "sat on both sides of the fence" by not accepting the president's unity government plan and by attempting to establish a government with the ultra-Orthodox parties, Lieberman asserted.

Lieberman said he had received tempting offers to get him to join a government coalition, including an offer to be appointed prime minister on a rotating basis for the last year of the prime minister's term. "We are not selling our principles, even for positions," he declared.

9:22 A.M. Lapid slams Netanyahu for leading Israel toward election 'with full force'

Kahol Lavan co-leader Yair Lapid slammed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday for claiming that it was Gantz who refused Rivlin's outline for a unity government, and is leading Israel into a third election campaign "with full force."

"This is a new low. After refusing every proposal for unity that we put before him, Bibi says 'Gantz refused.' This man has no boundaries. Lieberman knows the truth," Lapid wrote, adding that Netanyahu refues to part with the "haredi-messianic bloc."

Gantz also commented, calling Netanyahu "a unity refuser who will stop at nothing to drag Israel through a third election within a year." He beseeched Netanyahu to recognize the previous election's results, abandon his "immunity bloc."

9:15 A.M. Netantyahu blames Gantz for inconclusive meeting as mandate deadline approaches

Prime Minister Netanyahu criticized Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz on Wednesday morning after an unsuccessful meeting on Tuesday night where the two tried negotiate terms for a unity government.

"Unfortunately, at the meeting last night Benny Gantz refused to comply with the condition put forward by Avigdor Lieberman, accepting the outline whereby I, as prime minister, would be first in the rotation deal." 

Netanyahu mentioned that Lieberman "would go with the side that wouldn't refuse. Now it only remains to be seen if Avigdor Lieberman lives up to his word." However, Netanyahu rejected Lieberman's terms himself by refusing to dismantle his 55-seat right-wing bloc.

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. 

"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.