Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his main rival Benny Gantz missed a midnight deadline to reach an agreement on the unity government, but agreed on Thursday morning to continue talks.
Even the medical and economic crises caused by the coronavirus epidemic have so far not ended an unprecedented political stalemate that has pushed Israel into three inconclusive elections last year, and perhaps now a fourth .
Gantz and Netanyahu negotiated a power-sharing agreement that would keep the right-wing Prime Minister in power for another 18 months, Israeli media reported.
Under this agreement, former centrist generalist Gantz would take over after that.
Gantz, a newcomer to politics, had the first chance to form a government after the last election in March.
President Reuven Rivlin, who oversees the talks, said on Monday that progress justified his decision to give Gantz a two-day extension to sign a deal with Netanyahu.
But Gantz’s term expired at midnight Wednesday after a last-minute attempt by envoys from the two leaders to reach an agreement. This complicates plans for economic recovery once the coronavirus epidemic is brought under control and the strict foreclosure of the country is eased.
Without an agreement, it will be up to Parliament to choose a candidate who would then have 14 days to form a government. Failure to do so would automatically dissolve Parliament and call for early elections.
Netanyahu and Gantz released a joint statement on Thursday saying they would continue negotiations later today. Technically, talks can continue until the formal dissolution of Parliament.
Gantz previously said he would not serve in a government led by Netanyahu, who faces charges of corruption but denies any wrongdoing. The trial is scheduled to start next month.
But the enormity of the coronavirus crisis prompted Gantz to break his election promise and consider an agreement, a decision that angered many of his anti-Netanyahu supporters.
The result appears to weaken Gantz while strengthening Netanyahu, whose interim government oversees the country’s response to the coronavirus crisis.
A poll on Monday, December 12 on the Israeli channel indicated that if an election were held now, Netanyahu’s Likud would see an increase from four seats to 40 in the Knesset to 120 members, while the weakened blue and white party of Gantz n would only gain 19.
The poll also found that some 64% of citizens were satisfied with Netanyahu’s handling of the pandemic.
Israel has reported more than 12,500 cases of COVID-19 and at least 130 deaths. The restrictions confined most Israelis to their homes, forcing businesses to close and bringing unemployment down to more than 25%.