Coalition talks stalled as clock ticks towards possible August 4 elections

Opposition Member of Knesset renews call for legislation that would block Netanyahu from continuing as prime minister.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

The clock began ticking down Friday on the three-week period during which the members of Israel’s parliament must either agree on giving themselves another chance at forming a government, otherwise the country will head to an unprecedented fourth national election in just over a year.

In the latest twist to Israel’s ongoing political stalemate, President Reuven Rivlin on Thursday handed the hot potato back to the 120 members of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament. Since the March 2 elections, none has been able to form a coalition government.

Neither incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nor opposition Blue and White Party leader Benny Gantz could cobble together the 61 votes needed for a majority in the house.

Talks this week between them to form a government of national unity were inconclusive, and Rivlin, who had given the mandate to Gantz a month ago, refused to give an extension. Negotiators from the two parties were only talking by phone on Friday, with no Netanyahu-Gantz meeting planned, Kan News reported.

Under Israeli law, the Knesset now has three weeks to choose a Knesset Member (MK) whom they think could form a government, and that person would have 14 days to do so. If time runs out without a government, Israelis will go back to the polls, most likely on August 4.

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“I hope a majority of MKs can be found as soon as possible, preventing a fourth round of elections,” Rivlin said Thursday.

Opposition Yisrael Beiteinu party member Oded Forer renewed the call for legislation to bar Netanyahu from staying in power, saying that move would pave the way for a national unity government and avert national elections.

Both his party and Gantz’s previously tabled legislation would prevent anybody charged with a crime from sitting as prime minister. Netanyahu was charged last year with bribery, fraud and breach of trust, but the opening of his trial was delayed due to the coronavirus crisis.

“We are in favor of a true unity government,” Forer tweeted, calling on Gantz, recently appointed as Speaker of the Knesset, to use his power to set the agenda and push the bills through.

“If Gantz wants a real unity government, he must promote and enact the laws we have laid down, and then the road to unity government will be paved,” Forer tweeted.

The election imbroglio is confusing even to Israelis. Under Israel’s proportional representation parliamentary system, after national elections, the president gives the task of forming a new government to the leader of the party most members think has the best chance of getting a majority. With Netanyahu unable to get the minimum 61 votes needed, Rivlin gave the task to Gantz, whose Blue and White faction, which included Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party and Moshe Ya’alon’s Telem, had 61 votes with the support of Israel’s Arab block.

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Gantz had a month in which to form a government, but three MKs who previously supported him backed out, saying they did not favor a government formed with Arab support.

In a surprise move on March 26, Gantz went back on promises never do so and agreed to join a Netanyahu-led national unity government, thereby splitting from Telem and Yesh Atid. However, those talks also proved fruitless, and Rivlin on Thursday tossed the ball back to the house, where politicians would either have to make political concessions and unite or hold elections.

Time running out

Netanyahu and Gantz can still form a unity government, but time will run out on May 7.  If the Knesset does try to choose somebody other than Gantz, that candidate will have 14 days to form a government.

Talks between Netanyahu and Gantz apparently hit a wall over differences of opinion on judicial appointments and guarantees that Netanyahu would not face a legal disqualification due to the charges against him, which he has categorically denied.

Gantz still has some cards to play and is expected to recall the Knesset on Monday with the threat of pushing through the bills to disqualify Netanyahu from leading any future government.

Opposition Yesh Atid Party leader Yair Lapid called Thursday for emergency legislation to push off both elections and government formation so the country could focus on the corona crisis that has seen Israel’s robust economy brought to its knees with unemployment rocketing past 25 percent and entire industries under threat of bankruptcy.

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“I proposed a bill today to freeze the political situation for six months. Not ideal, but better than a fourth election during the time of corona,” Lapid tweeted.