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October 17, 2019 3:36 pm

After Latest Unity Offer Rejected, Israeli Coalition Talks Remain Stalemated

avatar by Benjamin Kerstein

Benny Gantz, head of Israel’s Blue and White party (left) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, head of the Likud party. Photo: Gili Yaari / Flash90 and Noam Revkin-Fenton / Flash90.

After a day of speculation, Israel’s centrist Blue and White party rejected a unity government proposal from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, calling it “not unity but immunity,” a reference to the prime minister’s legal woes.

The Israeli news site Walla reported that the latest offer was based on President Reuven Rivlin’s plan that would see Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz serving as rotating prime ministers. Netanyahu would be allowed to take a “leave of absence” to deal with corruption charges against him, and, depending on the outcome of the cases, could be allowed to return to government.

To sweeten the deal, Netanyahu reportedly offered Gantz several concessions: A committee on religion and state issues would be convened and the ultra-Orthodox parties would agree to sit with Blue and White number two Yair Lapid, one of their strongest critics.

Netanyahu called the offer a proposal for a “security emergency government,” referring to recent statements by himself and the IDF chief of staff regarding what they see as a deteriorating security situation due to developments in the wider Middle East.

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“This is the only government that can be established now and this is the only government that we must establish now,” Netanyahu said in a statement.

Blue and White replied that Netanyahu “will not come to direct negotiations, and even today he will not recognize that most Israeli citizens have elected a liberal unity government without the [religious] extremists. That is why Blue and White is the largest faction in the Knesset.”

“It is not a coincidence that the outgoing PM’s proposal does not address the most important issue — maintaining the purity of the law and the rule of law,” the party statement added, turning to Netanyahu’s legal situation.

“In recent weeks, too, Netanyahu continues to go against the law enforcement system, against the media, and against state officials, and does not treat these systems with proper dignity,” the statement said.

The secular-nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party, whose leader Avigdor Lieberman has demanded a unity government without the religious parties, and may be the kingmaker in the next government, also expressed opposition to Netanyahu’s proposal.

“This is Netanyahu’s submission to the ultra-Orthodox parties,” said Oded Forer, leader of the party’s Knesset faction.

“The pendulum that the ultra-Orthodox have swung to extremes in recent years should be brought back to the balance point,” Forer added. “Netanyahu’s outline fixes the State of Israel in the most extreme ultra-Orthodox position and in fact constitutes complete surrender to their demands.”

In its own statement, the Likud party harshly criticized Gantz, claiming he “surrendered again to the dictates of Lapid and Lieberman, and became a serial refuser preventing the establishment of a national unity government.”

“Gantz refused the president’s outline, refused to meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu, refused to meet with negotiating teams and now refuses the prime minister’s compromise outline,” the statement said.

Netanyahu must return his mandate to form a government to President Rivlin in less than a week. Rivlin is then expected to task Gantz with trying to form a government.

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