Netanyanu and Gantz to resume Israel coalition talks
The Israeli opposition leader, Benny Gantz, is due to resume coalition talks with Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday evening, amid domestic speculation that the prime minister might prefer to fight a fourth election.
In the past year, the two rivals have battled through three inconclusive national votes that gave neither a clear majority. In that time, they have also made multiple failed attempts to join together in a unity government.
Facing the coronavirus pandemic, both have expressed a desire to come to a final understanding.
While negotiations have remained difficult, President Reuven Rivlin extended a Monday deadline to agree a deal until midnight on Wednesday after it looked as if late progress had been made.
Gantz had that day made an 11th-hour plea on national television for Netanyahu to return to the table. “Israelis are expecting us to put aside our differences and work together,” he said.
Having imposed strict measures to reduce coronavirus infections, Israel has a relatively slow rise of new cases. However, there have been concerning outbreaks, especially in poorer and densely populated areas. The country of 9 million people has about 12,000 people confirmed to have Covid-19, with 126 deaths reported as of Wednesday morning.
Hours before the Monday deadline, Netanyahu responded to Gantz by tweeting: “Benny, I’m waiting for you in the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem.”
The two met and talked late into the night and again the next morning, breaking for the Passover holiday. Talks will continue on Wednesday evening, hours before the deadline.
Hopes of a power-sharing pact remain weak. Gantz’s Blue and White party said last week that after an “all-around agreement” had been reached, Netanyahu’s Likud party suddenly resurrected old demands around judicial appointments. Likud argued that it was Gantz who had backed away.
Israeli media have speculated that Netanyahu, the country’s longest-serving leader, may have decided that he would prefer to see the stalemate continue, which would eventually trigger a fourth election.
A poll published on Channel 12 News showed Likud could gain seats in a future election. This was in part because Gantz lost more than half his lawmakers when he decided – against their will – to continue negotiating with Netanyahu.
In the poll, Gantz was predicted to take 19 seats, much fewer than the 33 he won in March.
Netanyahu, the country’s longest-serving leader, has said publicly that he is working hard for a unity government.
Nahum Barnea, a well-known columnist for the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, said this week that Netanyahu might now be “trying to buy time so he is assured caretaker status as prime minister until the next election or the next century”.