Israeli President Reuven Rivlin has officially transferred the mandate to form the next national government to Blue and White party Chairman, LTG (res.) Benny Gantz. The former IDF Chief-of-Staff and political novice now has 28 days to achieve what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could not, having formally announced October 21 the failure of his second attempt this year to form a viable coalition following both the April 9 and September 17 elections.
During the ceremonious tasking of Gantz, President Rivlin expressed hope that all political sides will make the compromises necessary to form a unity government he said was “needed” by the nation.
The development marks the first time in 11 years that anyone other than Netanyahu, who is Israel’s longest-serving premier, has officially been authorized to form a government.
Blue and White holds 33 seats in the 22nd Knesset, far short of the 61-member majority. Shortly after accepting the presidential mandate last night, Gantz spoke with Netanyahu, whose Likud party holds 32 seats; and reiterated his goal to establish a “broad, liberal unity government.” According to an official Blue and White statement to TV7, “Netanyahu replied that he would get back to him” regarding a face-to-face meeting, but in the meantime both sides agreed for their respective negotiating teams to begin talks at 14:00 October 27.
Gantz also immediately placed calls to other prospective coalition partners. His team will also meet on Sunday with Yisrael Beiteinu (headed by Avigdor Lieberman, with 8 seats) at 16:00. Talks with the respective negotiating teams of Labor (led by MK Amir Peretz, 6) and the Democratic Union (chaired by MK Nitzan Horowitz, 5) will take place on Tuesday.
Chairman Ayman Odeh of the Joint List alliance (13) of Arab MKs congratulated Gantz on receiving the mandate to form the government; as did Joint List faction head and Chairman of the Ta’al party MK Ahmad Tibi, and Ra’am party and member of the Joint List faction, MK Mansur Abbas. All agreed to meet with the Blue and White in the near future.
All of the negotiations will be held at Kfar Maccabiah Convention Center in Ramat Gan, outside Tel Aviv.
Gantz’ offers to meet with rightwing factions have fared less-favorably. Both Co-Chairs of Yamina (7), MK Ayelet Shaked and MK Naftali Bennett, requested that communications over the matter resume after the commencement of Likud- Blue and White negotiations. Yamina-alliance member, National Union leader MK Bezalel Smotrich, wished Gantz luck in forming a government and expressed hope for the establishment of a broad government. After stating his belief that ‘there is more to unite than divide the two sides,’ he said Likud is authorized to negotiate on National Union’s behalf. MK Rafi Peretz, who chairs Yamina faction member HaBayit HaYehudi, asked to consult on the subject and respond at a future time.
Shas (9) Chairman MK Aryeh congratulated Gantz on receiving the presidential mandate, and asked that contact over future meetings resume after his own faction’s negotiations with Likud.
Agudat Israel head MK Yakov Litzman, who also leads the United Torah Judaism joint list (8), stated that he had no interest in negotiations with Blue and White, as the Likud ‘represents his party as part of the rightwing bloc.’ UTJ’s other faction Degel HaTorah, is headed by MK Moshe Gafni, who asked ‘to consult on the subject and to respond at a later time.’
A special survey conducted this week by the Guttman Center for Public Opinion and Policy Research at the Israel Democracy Institute reveals that 56% of Israelis support a system based on two large political parties with a rotational premiership between Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz. So far such a prospect has been blocked by Gantz’s stated refusal to sit in a government with Netanyahu while he faces indictment in three separate corruption cases; as well as the Likud leader’s insistence that he first serve as Israel’s next leader under any such arrangement.
A great deal hangs on the upcoming decision by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit on whether Netanyahu will be indicted; expected by years’ end, possibly as soon as next month. According to the IDI poll, 65% of Israelis believe that Netanyahu should resign his chairmanship of the Likud party if he is indicted, while a 53.5% majority of the public thinks he should already step down now.
A Likud-refusal to join a Gantz-led coalition at this time could possibly lead the Blue and White leader to declare a minority government; which could be later joined by the Likud if Netanyahu is ultimately removed from its helm via indictment or internal vote. In the event Gantz returns his mandate to President Rivlin, a third never-before-implemented option could afford a candidate recommended by a 61-Knesset majority to form a government within 21 days, without the possibility of an extension. Failure by that effort to yield success would automatically launch new elections – forcing constituents to return to the polls for an unprecedented, third time in one year, unparalleled in Israeli history.
-By Erin Viner