Gantz says he’s doubtful Likud wants unity, ‘examining alternatives’

Blue and White party chief Benny Gantz on Friday said he was doubtful as to whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party was genuinely interested in forming a unity government, and said his party was looking at “alternatives” to such a coalition, without giving details.

Gantz, on the 16th of his 28-day race to attempt to form a government, attacked Likud’s insistence of negotiating only as a single bloc of 55 MKs that include ultra-Orthodox and national-religious parties.

“I fear Likud does not truly wish to reach a unity agreement as is required by the election results,” he wrote on Facebook. “Anyone refusing to let go of the restrictive and obstructive bloc, who is not prepared to seriously discuss the basic principles of a future government — isn’t actually interested in forming a government.”

He accused Netanyahu of pushing Israel towards a third election within a year, which would be “a disaster for the country.”

But, he said, his party was “examining other alternatives in case the negotiations with Likud do not bear fruit.

“Naturally, there are things done behind closed doors that I cannot give details on at this time, but we will do everything to form a government and prevent further, costly and unnecessary elections.”

In response, Netanyahu in a statement accused Gantz of “using every excuse in order not to form the the government Israelis want: a national unity government.” He asserted that Likud “has agreed to many concessions to form a government” while Gantz was unwilling to do so and said it was the Blue and White chief who was leading the country to another national vote.

Amid political gridlock, Likud and Blue and White have regularly blamed each other for the failure to move forward in coalition talks, with each party seeking to cast the other as responsible if the country is forced to go to another election.

Likud has accused Gantz’s party of seeking to exclude the religious community from the government by refusing to accept the entire bloc, while Blue and White has said it is willing to negotiate with each of the parties separately but not as a single entity. Gantz is also likely loathe to serve as a fig leaf for what would be a very right-wing coalition, after campaigning on forming a liberal government.

Blue and White has also said it cannot accept a coalition led by Netanyahu so long as he is suspected of criminal wrongdoing in three criminal cases.

On Thursday, Blue and White and the Yisrael Beytenu party said they have reached understandings on several issues in coalition talks, the first such public announcement of progress since Gantz was tasked last month with forming a government.

The parties, led by Gantz and Avigdor Liberman, agreed the next annual budget would feature a minimum monthly pension increase for the elderly to 70 percent of the minimum wage, currently NIS 5,300 ($1,515) a month. They also agreed the next budget would not adversely impact plans to raise stipends for people with disabilities.

The parties’ negotiators agreed to meet again in the coming days, the statement said.

But when Likud and Blue and White negotiators met on Wednesday, the sides said “big gaps remain” between them.

Elections on September 17 resulted in a political stalemate, with neither Blue and White nor Likud securing enough seats for a majority with their respective allies. Ahead of the vote, Liberman vowed to force a unity government between Yisrael Beytenu, Blue and White and Likud if neither of them could form a government without him.

Netanyahu got first crack at forming a government after the elections, but the baton passed to Gantz after the Likud chief announced his efforts to assemble a coalition failed.

Likud has blamed Blue and White’s stubbornness for the failure to agree on a unity government, saying it has agreed in principle to an equal power-sharing arrangement.

Gantz has until November 20 to lock down a government.

A report Tuesday on the Globes website said there had in fact been progress in negotiations for a unity government.

The report said the real Blue and White-Likud negotiations weren’t taking place during the public meetings announced to the press, but through a back channel that has been operating almost since the elections.

It said that while several key issues have not yet been resolved, there have been agreements on others. It also said Gantz and most of his party co-leaders have agreed to a power-sharing mechanism in which Netanyahu will serve first as prime minister but go on a leave of absence once he is charged in three corruption investigations against him. Gantz would then be interim prime minister until Netanyahu’s two years are up, and would then take over the full-time job.

With unity talks stalled, Blue and White has also been engaging in coalition talks with potential left-wing partners, meeting with representatives of Labor-Gesher on Tuesday and announcing that the two sides had made “progress” toward a coalition agreement.

However, even with Labor-Gesher and Yisrael Beytenu, Gantz would only have 47 of 120 seats.

Likud has repeatedly claimed Blue and White would seek to a form a minority government with outside support from Arab-majority parties, though Blue and White has denied any such intention.

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