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Israel Edges Closer to Third National Elections

The Blue and White party has reportedly ended its attempt to gather the support of 61 Knesset Members in support of returning the mandate to build a successful ruling coalition back to its leader, MK Benny Gantz.

The effort to do so is part of the unprecedented process toward the formation of the next Israeli government, requiring the naming of any MK by a majority of parliamentary members. The undertaking has never before been required in the country’s 71-year history, and was initiated following the failures by either Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or his main challenger MK Gantz to garner sufficient support to lead within the allocated time limits.

Israel’s public Kan News broadcaster reported this morning that the Blue and White decision to abandon the mission resulted from several considerations; the most critical of which was the belief that the 8-seat Yisrael Beiteinu party does not intend to recommend either of the two leading politicians. There was also rising concern that another failed effort by Gantz, who returned the government-building mandate to President Reuven Rivlin on November 20, would tarnish the party’s chances in a looming third election. Likewise, there was increased realization that Gantz could not succeed in acquiring the necessary-Knesset majority to back a renewed effort without signatures of the 13-member Joint Arab List; a move that could have negative impact at the ballot box.

The deadline for a Member of Knesset to garner majority-support is in just 9 days, after which no option exists other than the holding of third national elections in under a year.

There have been several last-ditch efforts to build a national unity government between the Prime Minister’s Likud Party and Gantz’ Blue and White. The two sides negotiating teams held a meeting yesterday (December 1). According to a press release issued after the talks as having been conducted “in a positive atmosphere,” although acknowledging that “the gaps between the two sides remain significant.” There may be an additional meeting between the parties later this week.

The Prime Minister’s Likud party reportedly offered Gantz a deal involving Netanyahu serving as premier for the first 3-4 months, after which the Blue and White Chairman would remain at the helm for the rest of the standard 4-year term.  The offer is believed to have been rejected over Gantz’ suspicion that Netanyahu would violate the terms, and attempt to oust a Blue and White-led government.

Gantz today responded with an new offer. After emphasizing that his faction won the elections with its 33-seat lead over Likud’s 32, Gantz expressed willingness to establish a rotating-premiership under his leadership over the next two years, during which time Netanyahu could “remain head of the Likud and handle your [personal] issues.” He then promised a position would be found for Netanyahu that befits his “unique situation, one that will allow you to return if your name is cleared.”

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein (Likud) is also continuing his own effort to offset third, unwanted elections. He held talks with Blue and White co-Chairman and former Finance Minister Yair Lapid today. Lapid reportedly told Edelstein a unity government could be formed immediately, if Netanyahu would agree to serve second after a Gantz premiership.

Edelstein is also reportedly set to hold talks with current Transportation Minister and National Union leader Bezalel Smotrich, as well as the Head of Yamina and former Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked.

In a press statement to TV7 the Blue and White wrote, “We applaud the initiative of the Speaker of the Knesset, as well as any dialogue that can promote the formation of a broad, unity government led by Blue and White together with Likud, and based on a set of mutual principles.  Blue and White chairman, LTG (res.) MK Benny Gantz, has advised the negotiating team, led by Dr. Yoram Turbowicz and Mr. Shalom Shlomo, to make every effort toward avoiding a costly and unnecessary third election and to meet with the Speaker of the Knesset today to discuss the issue.”

82% of the public has no faith that a government can be formed in the remaining days before the December 11th deadline, according to the latest monthly survey conducted by the Guttman Center at The Israel Democracy Institute.

43% of Israelis hold Prime Minister Netanyahu responsible for the current political impasse. 38% blame Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor Liberman, and only 7.5% feel Blue and White leader Gantz is to fault.

Moreover, the IDI survey revealed that 35% of the general public believe Netanyahu should resign the premiership and stand trial in the wake of Attorney-General Avichai Mandelbilit’s decision to indict him on corruption charges in three separate criminal cases, including bribery, fraud and breach of trust. 16% think he should temporarily relinquish his post and return if he is ultimately acquitted.

By political affiliation, 96% of left-wing and 90% of centrist Israeli Jews think the Prime Minister should resign. Among right-wingers, 50% believe he should go, while 42% think he should retain his post.

Just 16% of the general public want to see Prime Minister Netanyahu protected by immunity. Related to that matter, Attorney-General Mandelblit informed Knesset Speaker Edelstein by written directive this morning that the 30-day period for calculating when Netanyahu must decide whether or not he will waive his immunity as a member of the Knesset begins today.

The formal notification came in response to procedural objections by Netanyahu’s attorneys, who claimed that the Attorney-General’s November 21 announcement of his intention to indict the Premier lacked key elements without which the 30-day “clock” could not begin.

In response to the lawyers’ objection that Mandelblit neglected to specify in which court Netanyahu would be tried, the Attorney-General today clarified that the proceedings against Netanyahu have been set and will be held at the Jerusalem District Court.