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Israeli Coalition talks deadlocked

What happened: Blue and White Party and Likud leaders said yesterday there was only a small chance that they would reach a compromise agreement and be able to form a unity government. Both sides warned that a third election was the more likely outcome. Despite the pessimism, the two parties are due to meet again today for talks.

Context: Political sources have suggested that events of the last few days have moved the parties further apart. A Blue and White official told Israel’s Channel 12 News that in light of Likud’s involvement in the harassment of a state witness in one of the corruption cases against the prime minister, they would be inappropriate coalition partners.

  • The Likud accused senior Blue and White figures of blocking a unity deal, declaring “the continuation of negotiations is a waste of time”.
  • Blue and White leader Benny Gantz was more optimistic, writing on Facebook yesterday that what is being presented in the media is not necessarily accurate, noting there are still three weeks until his deadline to form a government expires. He said it is: “Just the beginning of a process at the end of which a broad liberal unity government will be formed that will serve all citizens of Israel.”
  • Gantz met yesterday with Nitzan Horowitz the leader of the Democratic Union and is also due later today to meet with Ayman Odeh, leader of the Arab Joint List. Gantz suggested earlier in the week that the idea of forming a minority government remains an option if he is unable to set up a grand coalition.
  • So far, the Likud remains committed to representing the entire 55-seat right-wing bloc and insisting Netanyahu should go first in a rotating premiership arrangement.
  • The legal establishment pushed back yesterday after Likud attacks on the justice system. The head of the Supreme Court, Chief Justice Esther Hayut responded to Justice Minister Amir Ohana’s attack on the office of the Attorney-General. She said: “Times like these, which are unparalleled in the history of our government, obligate all of us to stand firm and carry out our task dauntlessly, responsibly and judiciously, as those who have been tasked with upholding the rule of law and bolstering its status.” She further warned that “politicisation of the justice system is liable to completely undermine its foundations as an independent establishment, undercut the public’s confidence in the judicial branch”.

Looking forward: Gantz received the mandate to form a government last week and he has 21 days remaining. If he fails, any member of Knesset who has the support of 61 MKs can have a go. However, if no one can achieve this, the Knesset automatically disbands and there will be new elections in March 2020.

  • The timing of the Attorney General’s decision on whether or not to indict Netanyahu remains crucial. It is expected sometime in November or early December. If Netanyahu is indicted it would completely transform the dynamic of coalition negotiations and potentially lead to a leadership challenge against Netanyahu in Likud.