Israel Faces Return to Political Crisis as Unity Government Talks Stall
Israel appeared to be teetering on the brink of a return to its year-long political impasse on Wednesday, with reports emerging of major difficulties in ongoing negotiations for a unity government.
Such a government seemed imminent several days ago when former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz broke up his centrist Blue and White party in to join a coalition with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing Likud party, though the unity agreement itself was not finalized.
Now, Israeli news site N12 reports that negotiations between Blue and White and Likud have reached an impasse and the way forward is unclear.
A source close to the negotiations said, “Efforts are being made but it is not certain a government will be set up.”
One major stumbling point is a possible annexation of large parts of the West Bank, something Netanyahu’s right-wing allies have been demanding for months. Though Gantz has not ruled out annexation, he has stated that he wants to do it in coordination with the neighboring Arab countries, something that is all but impossible.
Gantz has reportedly demanded that any deliberations on annexation be delayed for six months. One Likud official reportedly commented, “It doesn’t make sense since within six months the window of opportunity for annexation will close. We will not establish a left-wing government.”
In another major obstacle, neither side can agree on who will serve as the next justice minister, an important post considering the looming criminal trial against Netanyahu and ongoing controversy over the authority of the courts.
The sides are also divided on who will be the next Knesset speaker. Gantz is currently serving in the position, but is expected to receive a top ministerial position once a government is formed.
Israeli news site Walla reported that another sticking point is the actual size of the government. To accommodate the large number of MKs expecting cabinet posts, the Likud wants to expand the government to 34-36 ministers. Blue and White is refusing to discuss any government with more than 30 ministers.
The topic is particularly controversial as the right-wing coalition parties believe centrist Blue and White is being handed too many ministries at the expense of the right.
In addition, Blue and White is set to receive most of the top posts, including the Foreign, Defense, Economics, Culture and Communications Ministries, something that has caused further dissension on the right.