Israel elections: Netanyahu seeks to meet rival Benny Gantz to form unity government

Bloomberg Jerusalem | Updated on September 19, 2019 Published on September 19, 2019

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and Benny Gantz, leader of Blue and White party, stand next to each other at a memorial ceremony for late Israeli President Shimon Peres, at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem September 19, 2019.   -  REUTERS

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on main rival Benny Gantz, head of the centrist Blue and White bloc, to meet with him immediately to form a unity government.

The Israeli leader is fighting for his job after an inconclusive election this week suggests he has no clear path to heading a governing coalition. With 97 per cent of the vote counted, Netanyahu’s Likud is two parliamentary seats behind Blue and Whites 33, according to Israeli media. At present, neither Gantz nor Netanyahu has enough support from smaller parties to form a majority government of 61 seats.

The call to team up with Gantz is a swift reversal from Netanyahu’s campaign promise to lead a right-wing coalition including ultra-Orthodox and religious nationalist parties. The results of the election don’t allow that, so there is no choice but to form a unity government to avoid yet another revote, Netanyahu said in a video statement on Thursday.

“Benny, we must form a broad-based unity government, as early as today,” Netanyahu said. “The nation expects us, the two of us, to show responsibility, to cooperate.”

The Ynet news website, citing unidentified senior officials in Blue and White, said Gantz would have to head such a unity government because his bloc is the biggest in parliament. The officials also portrayed Netanyahu’s call to Gantz as a tactic to ramp up the pressure on Blue and White, and try to ensure its blamed in the event that no government is formed and a third election in less than a year is called.

Before the vote, Gantz had vowed not to sit in a government with Netanyahu because of the corruption allegations against him. Israels attorney general plans to indict Netanyahu on three corruption cases unless Netanyahu can convince him otherwise at a hearing scheduled for early October.

The final voting tally will be published next week.

Preventing another election

Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin will then decide who will get the first crack at forming a government. Rivlin took the opportunity to engineer a handshake between the two leaders at a memorial service for former President Shimon Peres on Thursday.

“I will do everything I can to prevent another general election,” Rivlin said. “Our current situation, which has gone on for a long time, with a transition government, grievously limits the ability of the government to act and to serve the citizens of Israel, and our ability to face the political, security and economic challenges we face. I hear, loud and clear, the voices calling for a broad and stable national unity government and I congratulate you, Mr Prime Minister, on joining that call this morning,” he said.

Published on September 19, 2019
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