Netanyahu and Gantz receive extension for talks

What happened: After negotiations over a national emergency government broke down again yesterday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz received a last-minute extension from President Reuven Rivlin overnight in order to finalise a coalition agreement. The new deadline is tomorrow (Wednesday) at midnight.

  • Netanyahu and Gantz both gave live televised addresses yesterday evening, after which they met in person along with their negotiating teams. They are set to meet this morning as well.
  • Both sides maintain that “significant progress” was made and that an agreement is within reach, although sticking points over judicial appointments and Netanyahu’s legal ability to serve as prime minister under indictment remain.
  • Gantz, in his address, pointed to the coronavirus crisis as the primary reason for backtracking on his long-standing promise not to serve with Netanyahu. “The state of emergency that has been forced upon Israel and the entire world does not allow leaders to close their eyes and ear and remain concerned only with their own egos … this is our moment of truth. It’s either a national emergency government or a senseless fourth round of elections.”
  • Netanyahu, in his address, also promised to “continue to make every effort to obtain the unity that the country so needs in these days”.
  • Unconfirmed reports late last night appeared to indicate that the pro-settler Yamina party, led by Defence Minister Naftali Bennett, had left Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc ahead of a possible coalition deal. Yamina officials had voiced their anger about the likely division of ministerial portfolios in a future government with Gantz.

Context: Coalition talks between Netanyahu and Gantz have ebbed and flowed after 26 March and Gantz’s decision to break apart his (original) Blue and White party in a bid to form a unity government.

  • Gantz last night stated that a “fair agreement” had been reached with Netanyahu a few days ago that “required Likud to compromise on some of the things it wanted, and us to compromise on some of the things that we wanted”.
  • According to reports, Netanyahu would serve as prime minister for the first 18 months (after which Gantz would take over for 18 months), with Gantz initially assuming the posts of defence minister and deputy prime minister.
  • The application of sovereignty over all Israeli settlements in the West Bank is also included in the agreement, with a likely date for implementation after July 2020.
  • The future government would also see an equal division of ministerial posts between Blue and White and its allies (Blue and White, Labour, and the Derech Eretz faction) and the Likud and its allies (Shas, United Torah Judaism, Yamina and Gesher).
  • Opinion polling released last night on Channel 12 showed a clear advantage for Netanyahu in any future election, with Likud garnering 40 seats relative to Blue and White’s 19, and the right-wing bloc predicted to win a 64-seat parliamentary majority.

Looking ahead: It remains unclear whether the last-minute negotiations will conclude successfully before the Second Passover holiday begins this evening and/or the extension granted by President Rivlin expires tomorrow.

  • If the talks do not succeed, and barring yet another (unlikely) extension, the mandate to form a government would revert to the Knesset plenum for 21 days, after which any Member of Knesset who garners 61 signatures could be tasked with forming a government.
  • That individual would then have 14 days to form a government. If this too does not succeed then the Knesset would disperse automatically and new elections called.

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