Israel's main parties begin talks on coalition government

Tuesday's meeting comes a day after their first meeting since the polling

Acting Israeli Prime Minister and leader of the Likud party Benjamin Netanyahu attends his party faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, Israel, 23 September 2019. EPA
Acting Israeli Prime Minister and leader of the Likud party Benjamin Netanyahu attends his party faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, Israel, 23 September 2019. EPA

Israel's two main political parties launched discussions on Tuesday in a bid to form a unity government after elections produced another deadlock following an earlier vote this year.

Tuesday's meeting between party representatives comes a day after Blue and White leader Benny Gantz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of the rival Likud party held their first meeting since the polling. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin brought them together in hopes of breaking a political impasse that could send the nation into months of limbo and potentially force a third election in less than a year.

The two men are due to meet again with Mr Rivlin on Wednesday, when the president could make his decision on who has the first shot at forming a majority coalition.

Mr Netanyahu currently has the support of 55 seats, while Mr Gantz has 54 seats. Both have fallen short of the 61 seats required to form a majority coalition. But Mr Gantz finished with the most seats for an individual party, 33, while Mr Netanyahu only amassed 31 seats.

Mr Gantz noted on Monday that his party is the largest and he should be in the lead.

"The public has chosen change and we have no intention of relinquishing our lead, our principles or our natural partners in this path," Mr Gantz said late on Monday.

Israel's president is responsible for choosing a candidate for prime minister after national elections. That task is usually a formality, but far more complicated this time since neither of the candidates can build a stable parliamentary majority on his own.

Mr Gantz met earlier with Avigdor Lieberman, a political free agent and likely kingmaker thanks to his eight seats in parliament.

"Happily, the two big parties have internalised the pressing necessity of setting up a unity government with a rotating premiership," Mr Lieberman said on Facebook.

Concluding their meeting at Mr Rivlin's Jerusalem office, Mr Netanyahu and Mr Gantz issued a joint statement saying they had discussed "moving forward with unity". It did not elaborate.

"The entire argument right now is over the question of who will serve first as prime minister, and who second," said Mr Lieberman.

Such a rotation has a precedent in the 1984-88 unity government of left-leaning Shimon Peres and right-winger Yitzhak Shamir, who took turns as prime minister.

If a power-sharing deal is forged, it could be imperative for Mr Netanyahu to serve as prime minister first should he seek to avoid prosecution.

Next month, Israel's attorney-general will hold a pretrial hearing on his announced intention to indict the Israeli leader on fraud and bribery charges in three corruption cases. Mr Netanyahu, who denies any wrongdoing, can argue against an indictment at the hearing.

As prime minister, Mr Netanyahu would be under no legal obligation to resign if formal charges are filed. But any other cabinet post might not offer him that protection.

If a third election is called, Mr Gantz, an ex-military chief who mounted his challenge to the prime minister with no prior political experience, will face a formidable negotiating foe in Mr Netanyahu.

He is Israel's longest-serving prime minister, having held the post for f more than 13 years, and has repeatedly outmanoeuvred rivals with his sharp political skills.

Updated: September 24, 2019 04:20 PM


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