Israel’s president summons leaders in bid to end political deadlock

Public disgusted by thought of third election, says Rivlin, as hopes of unity government stalled

Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz (left), prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu (centre) and President Reuven Rivlin at  a memorial ceremony for late Israeli president Shimon Peres in Jerusalem last Thursday. Photograph:  Gil Cohen-Magen/AFP/Getty Images

Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz (left), prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu (centre) and President Reuven Rivlin at a memorial ceremony for late Israeli president Shimon Peres in Jerusalem last Thursday. Photograph: Gil Cohen-Magen/AFP/Getty Images

 

President Reuven Rivlin summoned prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz, the leader of the centrist Blue and White, for talks on Monday night in an effort to end Israel’s political deadlock following last week’s indecisive election.

The election, the second in five months, left Blue and White with 33 seats compared to 31 for the Likud, in a significant setback for Mr Netanyahu’s efforts to secure a fifth term. Neither of the two leaders has a realistic chance of cobbling together a majority coalition of 61 Knesset members , raising the prospect of yet another election, early next year , meaning Israel will have been effectively paralysed for more than a year.

Mr Rivlin said that people were “disgusted” by the prospect of a third election. “The people of Israel want a government that will be stable,” he said. “A stable government cannot be a government without both of the two largest parties.”

Mr Rivlin must now task either Mr Netanyahu or Mr Gantz with forming a coalition and is expected to do so by Wednesday, but his consultations with party leaders has only complicated matters. Parties representing 55 Knesset members recommended Mr Netanyahu for prime minister, compared with only 54 for Mr Gantz.

The predominantly Arab Joint List, one of the big winners of the election with 13 seats , recommended Mr Gantz in a dramatic move, but three members from the radical Balad faction objected ,meaning only 10 recommendations , depriving Mr Gantz of a majority of recommendations.

Mr Netanyahu, fighting for his political survival and realising that he cannot form a government with his traditional right-wing and religious partners, said ahead of Monday night’s talks that a unity government is the only way out of the deadlock.

“Unity must be achieved without boycotts and disqualifications,” he said. “I’m convinced that if we’ll go into it with an open mind we’ll be able to form a government that’s united and good for Israeli people.”

Criminal charges

Blue and White negotiators told the president they wanted a unity government but rule out Mr Netanyahu as prime minister because of his pending criminal charges.

Early next month Mr Netanyahu faces a pre-trial hearing on three separate corruption cases but it may be December before the attorney general decides whether to issue indictments.

According to some commentators the coalition negotiations may drag on until Mr Netanyahu’s legal situation is clarified.

The decision by the Joint List to recommend Mr Gantz marked the first time an Arab party had recommended a candidate for prime minister since 1992, when two Arab parties endorsed Yitzhak Rabin.

The decision is seen as a watershed moment, possibly heralding the beginning an era of greater integration and coexistence by Israel’s Arab minority, which makes up more than 20 per cent of the population.

The political deadlock also looks likely to further delay the release of the US Middle East peace plan, which was due to be made public immediately after the election. It is now unlikely the “deal of the century” will be released before a new Israeli government is sworn in.