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April 2, 2020 12:54 pm

Blue and White and Likud Near Deal to Have Unity Government by Passover

avatar by Benjamin Kerstein

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.

A day after it appeared that negotiations between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party and former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz’s centrist Blue and White party on forming a unity government might be falling apart, Israeli media outlets reported on Thursday that the situation had improved and a coalition deal could be inked before the start of the Passover holiday next week.

Israeli news site N12 reported Thursday that all-night negotiations had taken place between Likud and Blue and White representatives via the Zoom meeting app and telephone, due to the continuing coronavirus pandemic.

Substantial progress was apparently made, with a Blue and White MK telling Army Radio “negotiations are about to be finalized.”

N12 said that the parties were close to a compromise on what had been the largest obstacle to a coalition deal: the annexation of parts of the West Bank. The right-wing bloc led by Likud has demanded immediate annexation, while Gantz has said such a move should be put off for six months.

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Gantz has previously said annexation should be done in coordination with neighboring Arab states, something that is all but impossible.

The proposed compromise would freeze the existing situation for a short period, after which decisions on annexation will be coordinated closely with the US.

In addition, the question of who will be the next justice minister, which had been a major sticking point in negotiations due to the sensitivity of the post while Netanyahu is facing a criminal trial on corruption charges, has been resolved, with Blue and White’s Avi Nissenkorn being given the nod.

Continued wrangling over ministries, with the right-wing bloc led by Likud protesting Blue and White receiving too many portfolios, also seemed to be nearing an end, with Likud’s Miri Regev being given the Public Security Ministry and the Foreign Ministry likely going to someone from the right.

The Education Ministry remains a sticking point, with the religious-right Yamina party lobbying to retain the ministry and senior party officials saying, “If the education portfolio is transferred to Blue and White — religious Zionism will sit in opposition.”

This could remain a point of contention, as reports indicated that the current inclination was to hand the ministry to Blue and White’s Gabi Ashkenazi — another former IDF chief of staff.

Also on Tuesday, N12 reported that messages sent by Gantz to a private WhatsApp group had been leaked, with the Blue and White leader saying that he understood the anger at his decision to join a government with Netanyahu, but felt it was his only choice given the current situation.

“I have the feeling that you’re angry and disappointed with me,” Gantz wrote. “I ask to explain: 1. There was no option of a minority government. 2. I was not prepared to put Israeli society through a fourth election. 3. A ‘political freeze’ would leave Netanyahu in government alone.”

Moreover, wrote Gantz, a “majority of Blue and White supporters thought that we had to join” a unity government.

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