Netanyahu-Gantz talks stall

What happened: Negotiations to form a national emergency government between the Likud and Blue and White have reportedly stalled due to disagreements over key ministerial posts and future plans to apply Israeli sovereignty to settlements in the West Bank.

  • According to reports, the two sides disagree over who will be appointed to the posts of Justice Minister, Knesset speaker, Police Commissioner and introducing a new judicial appointment process. In addition, right wing politicians are demanding that the unity government commit to apply Israeli sovereignty to settlements in the West Bank and the Jordan Valley.
  • Former Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (Yamina) said this morning on Kan Radio that there was a “window of opportunity” in the next two months to apply Israeli sovereignty to settlements in the West Bank ahead of the November 2020 US Election. Settler leaders earlier this week demanded that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu make implementation of the policy a condition for the formation of the government.
  • Channel 13 and Haaretz reported yesterday that a draft coalition agreement includes the creation of a separate official residence for the deputy prime minister. Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz are supposed to rotate the premiership for 18 months each, with the other taking up the deputy post.
  • A final coalition deal has also been delayed due to the wider question of the allocation of ministerial portfolios. A key condition for Gantz was that ministries would be divided equally between Blue and White and Netanyahu’s rightwing bloc of parties – with the future government likely to have more than 30 ministers, a record.
  • With negotiations ongoing, Gantz associates told Ynet yesterday that: “We want to form an emergency government, but we won’t enter government at any price.”

Context: A week ago Gantz made the dramatic decision to nominate himself as Knesset speaker in order to keep talks with Netanyahu on track to create a national emergency government.

The (original) Blue and White party subsequently split and the anti-Netanyahu majority in parliament fractured. As a result, Gantz now finds himself with very little leverage in the negotiations with Likud.

  • Time is running out for the (theoretical) passage of key laws disqualifying an indicted prime minister from running for office again. Gantz’s mandate from the president, and with it control over the Knesset’s agenda via the Arrangements Committee, expires in 10 days.
  • Gantz has reportedly already agreed in principle to pass legislation allowing Netanyahu to remain prime minister (and deputy prime minister) even as his criminal trial proceeds.
  • A deal between Netanyahu and Gantz is, however, still expected to be agreed, primarily due to the seriousness of the coronavirus outbreak.
  • As of this morning 31 people have died and more than 6000 have been infected, 83 of which are on ventilators. Unemployment in Israel has increased to 24.4 per cent in the past three weeks.

Looking ahead: A coalition agreement may reportedly be concluded by Monday 6 April, although if that deadline isn’t met then a new government may only be formed after the Passover holiday on 16 April.

  • Gantz said last week that it was vital for Israel that an emergency government be formed in order to tackle the unprecedented pandemic and heal divisions within Israeli society. With talks now dragging on it is clear that less urgent, but more politically sensitive, issues are taking centre stage.