Israel’s Gantz, Netanyahu given 48 hours to negotiate unity government

Israeli Speaker of the Parliament Benny Gantz had 48 hours on Tuesday to reach an agreement on an emergency unit government with his former electoral rival, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The narrow bargaining window was approved by President Reuven Rivlin a few minutes after Gantz’s four-week term in office expired.

In a joint statement, the blue-and-white centrist Gantz alliance and Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party said “significant progress” had been made towards an agreement in direct talks between the two men early Tuesday morning .

But declarations of progress in the coalition talks have been made several times since the inconclusive Israeli election on March 2, when an agreement has remained elusive.

As Israel’s unprecedented political stalemate persists, many calls have been made for an interim government of national unity to fight COVID-19, which has infected more than 11,500 Israelis.

Gantz, a former military chief, has opposed Netanyahuin three votes in the past year.

Neither man received sufficient support in any of the votes to forge a stable government coalition.

Following the latest polls, the majority of legislators in the 120-person Israeli parliament, or Knesset, have recommended Gantz to try to form a government.

But his chances of forging a stable coalition were still slim, given the deep divisions within the anti-Netanyahucamp.

Last month, Gantz was elected president of the Knesset and effectively stopped seeking to form a coalition which he would lead as prime minister.

Moment of Truth

Instead, he called for an alliance to be led by Netanyahu for a defined period, allowing Israeli policy to have a rare moment of unity as it looks down on an unprecedented health crisis.

Gantz and Netanyahu discussed various arrangements, including agreements that would allow Gantz to become Prime Minister after several months.

“The Israelis expect us to put our differences aside and work together,” Gantz said on Monday, calling it “the moment of truth”.

“History will not forgive us if we fail.”

In a statement made Tuesday morning, Rivlin said he had agreed to extend Gantz’s term until the end of Wednesday following a request which had been “backed” by Netanyahu.

Gantz and Netanyahuc said “they are very close to reaching an agreement,” the statement added.

Gantz’s former former allies have broken with the speaker since his decision last month to seek a deal with Netanyahu, arguing that the prime minister cannot be trusted to live up to the terms of a deal.

In office since 2009, the Prime Minister of Netanyahuis Israel is the oldest and the first to be charged during his mandate.

The Prime Minister denies the corruption, fraud and breach of trust charges brought against him in January.

Netanyahucritics has accused that it would stop at nothing to put an end to the indictments, in particular by pushing for a fourth vote in the hope of finally obtaining a parliamentary majority which could have legislation passed granting it immunity from prosecution .