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September 23, 2019 4:02 pm

Seeking Unity, Israeli President Rivlin Hosts Gantz-Netanyahu Meeting: ‘A Shared and Equal Government Is Possible’

avatar by Barney Breen-Portnoy

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Reuven Rivlin and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz meet in Jerusalem, Sept. 23, 2019. Photo: Haim Zach / GPO.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin sought on Monday to break the political gridlock besetting his country, hosting the heads of the two largest parties in the Knesset for a meeting at his official residence in Jerusalem.

Following last week’s hotly-contested national election, the second in six months, neither Prime Minister and Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu nor ex-IDF Chief of Staff and Blue and White head Benny Gantz has a clear path to forming the next government.

While centrist Blue and White won more Knesset seats than right-wing Likud (33-31), Netanyahu holds a slight edge over Gantz in the number of MKs recommending him as prime minister (55-54).

The eight MKs from Avigdor Lieberman’s secular-nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party, as well as the 3 MKs from the Balad faction of the largely-Arab Joint List, did not recommend anyone, preventing either Gantz or Netanyahu from attaining a Knesset majority — 61 of the legislative body’s 120 seats.

Given the lay of the land, Gantz and Netanyahu will likely have to set up a unity government, with a rotating premiership, or there will be a third election early next year.

But the unity scenario is complicated by the questions of who would be prime minister first, which — if any — other parties would join the government and how potential indictments of Netanyahu in the corruption cases he is mired in would affect the arrangement.

On Monday, Rivlin told Gantz and Netanyahu, “The public does not want another election. They came out and voted, and now it is your turn. The responsibility for establishing a government falls on you, and the people expect you to find a solution and to prevent further elections, even if it comes at a personal and even ideological cost.”

“The current situation, where we have an interim government, is gravely harming Israeli citizens and our ability to address the challenges we face,” the president noted.

“A shared and equal government is possible,” Rivlin implored. “It can and it must express the different voices in society.”

“We have taken a significant step forward tonight, and now the first challenge is to establish a channel of direct communication between the sides,” he added.

Monday’s meeting included a period of time in which Gantz and Netanyahu were left alone to speak one-on-one.

Rivlin must decide in the coming days which candidate to first give the mandate to attempt to form a government. The president pointed out on Monday that his discretion regarding this choice was “even greater” than usual, as neither Gantz nor Netanyahu was backed by a Knesset majority.

Following Monday’s three-way sit-down, it was announced that negotiating teams from Blue and White and Likud would meet on Tuesday. Also, Rivlin invited Gantz and Netanyahu to return to his home on Wednesday for further talks.

A joint statement published by Blue and White and Likud said Gantz and Netanyahu had discussed “ways to advance the unity of Israel.”

Watch a video showing Gantz and Netanyahu arrive at Rivlin’s residence on Monday below:

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