Israel‘s prime minister and his main rival have opened a new round of unity talks in the latest effort to avoid an unprecedented third parliamentary election in less than a year.
Sunday’s meeting was their first round of direct talks since President Reuven Rivlin on Wednesday tasked former military chief Benny Gantz with trying to form a government.
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Israel has been paralysed by political deadlock following an inconclusive election last month, with neither Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu‘s Likud nor Gantz’s Blue and White party in control of a 61-seat majority in parliament.
A joint statement from Netanyahu’s Likud and Gantz’s Blue and White alliance after the meeting however did not herald any breakthrough.
“The two discussed the structure of political options available,” the English-language statement said.
“Another meeting is anticipated between the two.”
With Blue and White controlling 33 seats in parliament and Likud holding 32, the two parties together have enough support to form a government. While both men support the idea of a unity deal, they have disagreed over who should lead it.
Netanyahu wants his traditional religious and nationalist allies to sit with Likud and Blue and White.
Gantz is not eager to form a government with Netanyahu’s hardline allies. He also refuses to serve under a Netanyahu-led government while the long-serving leader faces possible indictment for corruption charges.
Israel’s lawyer general is to decide on whether to charge Netanyahu in the coming weeks.
It is the first time in more than a 10 years that a candidate other than Netanyahu has been given the opportunity to form a government.
But without Likud, Gantz’s options are limited. He can try to break up Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc and win over smaller hardline parties. So far, there is no sign of that happening.
His remaining potential partners include a diverse group of parties that have little in common, including the secular ultranationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party, dovish Jewish parties and a grouping of Arab parties, which have never sat in a government before.
The country has faced political paralysis since Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman refused to sit in a government with Netanyahu’s ultra-religious partners following April’s election. That decision robbed Netanyahu of a parliamentary majority, leading to last month’s inconclusive election.
Lieberman has refused to endorse either candidate for prime minister and demands they reach a unity deal. If the sides fail, Israel could face a third election early next year.