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Tuesday, 11 May 2021

Netanyahu fails to form Israel government as rival Gantz set to try

AFP , Tuesday 22 Oct 2019
Retired Israeli General Benny Gantz
Retired Israeli General Benny Gantz, one of the leaders of the Blue and White political alliance. (Photo: AFP)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has suffered a serious defeat in his bid to stay on as premier by failing to form a new coalition government, but his rival faced similar difficulties as he set about the same task on Tuesday.

Ex-military chief Benny Gantz will now be given the chance to try to negotiate a coalition, but a deadlock following polls held on September 17 remains -- and yet another election cannot be ruled out.

It would be Israel's third vote within a year, after Netanyahu also failed to form a coalition following April polls.

His decision to inform President Reuven Rivlin on Monday night that he had been unable to form a government by no means signalled the end of his tenure as Israel's longest-serving prime minister.

He remains premier as long as no new government is formed, and a number of scenarios could see him retain his post even as he faces the possibility of corruption charges in the weeks ahead.

Late Tuesday, Rivlin announced he would formally task Gantz with trying to form a government on Wednesday night.

The statement from the president's office noted that the decision came after talks with the various parliamentary factions, and "all remain committed to their original positions" expressed after the September vote, meaning Gantz was far from having the support of a majority of the lawmakers.

One of the few things clear in Israel's post-electoral morass was that Netanyahu, who celebrated his 70th birthday on Monday, was not giving up.

But his announcement was a landmark moment in Israeli politics since Netanyahu has been given the president's mandate to form a government after every election since 2009.

Announcing his decision with a social media video, Netanyahu sought to blame Gantz, since the ex-military chief has refused to negotiate on the premier's preferred terms.

One of Netanyahu's closest allies, Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, argued Tuesday that the prime minister had been "obstructed" in negotiations.

"Disagreements don't prevent negotiations," he told Israel's army radio.

"To the contrary, one comes to negotiations when one begins with disagreements. Therefore, if Benny Gantz offers Netanyahu to sit down with him one-on-one, I'm confident that Netanyahu will sit with him."

Israeli public television reporters caught up with Gantz outside his home after a workout on Tuesday morning.

"We're always optimistic, it's a way of life," he said from behind the wheel of his car, dressed in shorts and a T-shirt.

A senior member of his centrist Blue and White alliance was strongly critical of Netanyahu.

"What has Bibi done with the mandate to build a government? Four weeks of nothing," Ofer Shelah said on Twitter, using Netanyahu's nickname.

"He passed the time in order to continue as prime minister for a little while longer... Bibi wants elections. That is obvious."

The Blue and White leader had no political experience before he mounted his challenge to the prime minister he once worked with as military chief of staff, but has now found himself at the doorstep of power.

Entering the office Netanyahu has held for a total of more than 13 years, however, would be a challenge even to the most skilled politician.

 Disunity on unity 

The deadlock following last month's polls will likely require major concessions or a decision by members of Netanyahu's right-wing Likud to abandon him -- and the two options appear a long way off for now.

Both Likud and Blue and White say they want a unity government, but they are divided on how to achieve it.

Likud has been seeking to negotiate based on a compromise set out by Rivlin that takes into account the possibility the premier will be indicted for corruption in the coming weeks.

It could see him remain prime minister for now, but step aside at some point later as he combats the charges.

Gantz would take over as acting premier under such a scenario.

Blue and White says Gantz should be prime minister first under any rotation arrangement since his party won the most seats, finishing with 33 compared to Likud's 32.

Gantz also says Blue and White cannot serve in a government with a prime minister facing serious indictment.

An opinion survey released Tuesday showed 56 percent of the public supports a rotation between Gantz and Netanyahu as prime minister.

Some 65 percent said Netanyahu should resign as head of Likud if indicted, in the poll conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute think tank.

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