Odds of forming unity government are exactly ‘zero,’ senior political official says

A senior political insider says that the gaps are only growing wider between the two largest parties.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

As matters currently stand, there is no chance that the Likud and Blue and White parties will form a grand coalition anymore, a senior political figure told Israel Hayom on Tuesday.

“The unity government is dead and Israel is on its way to a third round of elections,” the insider said, citing several factors as the cause.

The foremost stumbling block, said the unnamed official, is that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would like to continue serving as the country’s leader even if criminal charges are brought against him in any of the three corruption cases hanging over him.

However, said the source, Blue and White is simply not prepared to sit in a government with Netanyahu even if the most serious charge of bribery is dropped.

Party leaders made his alleged corruption a central theme in their campaign from the start, and believe that at least some of the charges will still stand once Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has gone through all the material a final time.

Mandelblit is expected to decide whether he will indict Netanyahu, and if so, on which charges in the next several weeks. But Blue and White leader Benny Gantz has only two weeks left to put a government together before his time for doing so runs out.

According to the senior politico, Gantz’s leadership of the party has also weakened to the point that he can’t adopt President Reuven Rivlin’s compromise scenario that would enable a unity government.

Rivlin’s idea was to pass a law to allow Netanyahu to take a leave of absence from the prime minister’s office if indicted, and have an empowered vice-prime minister (Gantz) take over the position while Netanyahu deals with his legal issues.

Also, the right-wing bloc has held firm. Formed immediately after the September elections, Blue and White hoped cracks would form within it which it could  exploit.

Recently, the New Right party’s chairman Naftali Bennett said that he would not hold Netanyahu to his promise to enter a unity government solely as a bloc. But nobody has suggested someone other than Netanyahu become its leader, nor will any of its 55 members be induced into a narrow coalition with Blue and White.

The other possibility bandied about, in which Blue and White would head a minority government backed by the Joint Arab List from outside the government, has been nixed by several right-wingers in the party.

Avigdor Liberman, whose Israel Beiteinu party would have to be in such a coalition, also refused to consider such an option, calling the Arab party “a fifth column” that negates Israel’s right to exist.

An initiative to tempt Liberman back to a narrow right-wing coalition has not taken off either. The ultra-Orthodox parties refuse to contemplate a softening of their stance on religion v. state issues, a deal-breaker for Liberman who campaigned on a get-tough approach to ultra-Orthodox parties.

The Right has not given up hope yet, however, as just-elected Likud faction head Miki Zohar told Ynet on Tuesday that the party is going to ask the Knesset to pass a law enabling direct elections of the prime minister.

This means the Knesset would continue to operate and Netanyahu and Gantz would go head-to-head in elections to decide who would become prime minister first.