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Gantz rejects Netanyahu’s latest unity offer

What happened: Benjamin Netanyahu made a last-ditch proposal yesterday to the Blue and White party to form a national unity government but it was quickly rejected by Benny Gantz who said it was “a proposal that I cannot accept.” Netanyahu’s window – or “mandate” – to form a government closes next Wednesday, after which it will be Gantz’s turn.

  • Netanyahu’s offer included vague clauses on security, economics, social welfare, religion and state, and foreign policy. On the most sensitive issue of religion and state the offer said the status quo would be preserved for one year and that coalition parties would have a free vote on a law regarding military conscription of ultra-Orthodox men.
  • More consequentially, Netanyahu said he would not break up his 55-seat right-wing/ultra-Orthodox bloc, a move Blue and White and Yisrael Beitenu leader Avigdor Lieberman have long demanded. Netanyahu’s offer also did not address who would serve first in any premiership rotation arrangement between him and Gantz.
  • In rejecting the offer, Blue and White said in a statement that Netanyahu (“the outgoing Prime Minister”) failed to “acknowledge that the majority of Israeli citizens elected a liberal unity government, without extremists.” The statement also added that “the establishment of committees and the postponement of decision making to later stages raises concerns” about the sincerity of Netanyahu’s intentions.

Context: One month after the last election, Israel is still in political deadlock. Netanyahu was never likely to obtain a 61 seat majority needed to form a government. Yesterday’s offer, like those that came before, are meant to show the public that he attempted to compromise – and that if there is a repeat (third) election Gantz should be blamed.

  • Netanyahu has also solidified his right-wing allies, including inside the Likud, who all have declared that he is their sole candidate for prime minister. For this reason Gantz will also find it difficult to form a government once the “mandate” passes to him next week for 28 days with no possibility of an extension.
  • Gantz does in theory have the option of forming a minority government, with Blue and White, Labour and Democratic Union inside the government (44 seats) and possibly supported from the outside by Yisrael Beitenu (8 seats) and the Joint (Arab) List (13 seats). But a minority government has never been formed in Israel after an election but they have resulted after parties have left existing coalitions. Most recently, when Shas left Yitzhak Rabin’s coalition in 1993 it became a minority Government supported by Arab parties.
  • The obstacle to such a move is political, with Lieberman previously stating he would not serve in a government with the Arab-Israeli parties or the left-wing Democratic Union. It also remains to be seen whether all the Arab-Israeli parties would be willing to actively support the creation of an Israeli government.   ​​​​​​​

Looking ahead: When Netanyahu’s mandate to form a government expires he will be at the mercy of whatever deal Gantz can close, with little influence on events. For this reason the latest offer was likely significant as another show of loyalty to his right-wing/ultra-Orthodox allies to ensure they do not defect. Gantz yesterday said again he would “begin serious negotiations toward the establishment of a liberal unity government that will bring about change and restore hope to the citizens of Israel.” The next few weeks will therefore be a major test of Gantz’s skills as a deal-maker and negotiator.