Gantz has three days to form a government

What happened: Blue and White Party leaders held intense negotiations yesterday with Yisrael Beiteinu and the Labour Party in an attempt to reach an agreement before Benny Gantz’s deadline to form a Government expires at midnight on Wednesday.

  • The parties have reportedly agreed to Avigdor Lieberman’s position on a range of policies about religion and state issues, including: ultra-Orthodox conscription into the army, reforms to religious conversions, public transport and shops open on Saturday and the implementation of an agreement to allow non-Orthodox prayer at the Western Wall.

Context: The Blue and White party are working on various scenarios to be able to form a government, including a minority Government. The plan will require a centre-left led coalition receiving support from the outside from at least part of the Joint List to pass a vote of confidence.

  • If Blue and White joined with Labour and the Democratic Union they only have the support of 44 seats, if Yisrael Beitenu’s 8 seats joined, that would take them to 52 which would require the support of at least 9 seats from the Arab Joint list to form a 61 seat majority.
  • Lieberman called the idea of a minority government ‘impossible’ and repeated his preference for a unity Government with Likud, Blue and White and Yisrael Beitenu that would consist of 76 seats in the 120 member Knesset. Benjamin Netanyahu has so far insisted that he would only form a Government with the entire right wing ultra-Orthodox bloc of 55 seats.
  • Yisrael Beitenu officials met yesterday with Likud. Netanyahu is also trying to convince his ultra-Orthodox allies, Shas and UTJ, to agree to make concessions on religion and state in order to be able to broker a deal that would enable Avidgor Lieberman to support a right wing ultra-Orthodox Government.
  • Likud held a rally last night to warn of the dangers of a minority government supported by the Joint List. Benjamin Netanyahu said: “Arabs can be Zionists and support the State of Israel, but they aren’t Zionists and they don’t support the State of Israel. To be dependent on them all the time, especially at the current time, is an enormous danger to Israel.” He said the Joint List MKs ‘support the terror organisations and call IDF soldiers murderers.’ Leader of the Joint List Ayman Odeh said: “This evening he [Netanyahu] sealed his legacy as a bitter criminal who doesn’t know how to lose, who only knows how to hurt and to incite against the people he was supposed to serve. All of us, Arabs and Jews, will emit a sigh of relief on the day that he goes, and we will continue to fight for peace, equality, democracy and social justice.”
  • President Rivlin has appealed for a unity government and proposed that Benny Gantz and Benjamin Netanyahu should rotate as Prime Minister, but suggested that if Netanyahu is indicted by the Attorney General he would have to detach himself from day to day Government.  ​​​​​​​

Looking ahead: Avigdor Lieberman is expected to announce his preferred coalition idea by the end of Tuesday. His party is still the pivotal swing vote and he will potentially decide the outcome of the coalition talks that have now dragged on for more than two months. If Benny Gantz fails to form a Government, any member of Knesset who can present the endorsement of 61 MKs can have a go. Right now this is looking like an insurmountable task. The resulting deadlock would lead to another election in March 2020. Israel’s Attorney General Avichai Mandleblit is expected to announce before Tuesday 26 November that Benjamin Netanyahu will be indicted for bribery, fraud and breach of trust. That will add a new element to the coalition talks. Netanyahu will stand firm as legally he is not required to resign, but it could increase pressure on him within Likud to stand aside and allow a grand coalition to be formed.