By LAHAV HARKOV and GIL HOFFMAN
A unity government in Israel seems closer than ever, with Blue and White Party leader MK Benny Gantz moving towards negotiations based on President Reuven Rivlin’s outline for a rotation for the position of prime minister.
Rivlin’s idea is to pass a law enabling a prime minister to go on a recess of indeterminate length to deal with an indictment, and create a position of a bolstered vice-prime minister to run the country until the prime minister is cleared of charges.
Under the current law, a prime minister can take only a 100-day break from his position, and only if he is incapacitated.
Gantz expressed willingness to negotiate based on Rivlin’s proposal, according to multiple media reports, but would want to be prime minister and not vice prime minister while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is suspended from the premiership, assuming he is indicted.
In addition, Likud and Blue and White would have to negotiate about which point in the legal process would be Netanyahu’s time to bow out.
The plan also did not give any kind of guarantees for the rotation, or address who will live in the Prime Minister’s Residence.
“We will sit for a few months under Netanyahu and hold our noses, but he will have an expiration date,” Gantz said, accoring to Israeli television.
A source very close to Gantz denied the quote, but said they are ready for compromises to prevent a third election within a year.
Talks between Gantz and Netanyahu have been stalled for weeks, with Blue and White refusing to sit in a government while Netanyahu is under a recommended or actual indictment, and Likud insisting on negotiating as a 55-seat right-wing bloc and not as an individual party.
Netanyahu also took a step towards a possible unity government — in his capacity as defence minister — by authorising a meeting between Gantz and IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi, which took place on Wednesday afternoon.
Gantz, a former IDF chief of staff, requested the meeting.
The meeting addressed “security challenges and regional developments”, the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit said. Netanyahu has repeatedly cited security concerns as a reason to form a unity government as soon as possible, and a briefing with Kochavi on threats Israel is facing could give Gantz a reason to compromise without looking as if he had reneged on his promises to voters.
On Tuesday, leaders of parties in the Right-religious bloc pledged not to join a minority government formed by Gantz.
The pledge is intended to make it harder for Gantz to build a coalition.
It refers to a scenario in which Gantz builds a 44-MK minority coalition with Labor-Gesher and the Democratic Union that is backed from outside by the Joint List and Yisrael Beitenu to prevent it from falling.
Likud has pressed Yisrael Beitenu leader Avigdor Lieberman to make a similar commitment.
The signatories from Likud, Shas, United Torah Judaism and the National Union-Bayit Yehudi pledged that they would only enter a government led by Netanyahu, either a right-wing coalition or a unity government with a rotation in the Prime Minister’s Office.
The three MKs from the New Right — Ayelet Shaked, Naftali Bennett and Matan Kahane — refused to sign the document, calling the pledge “unnecessary”.
Lieberman stressed that the only option is a liberal national-unity government. He said the government can’t include the “messianic” parties that are currently in the right-wing bloc, and can’t include the Joint List.
Lieberman added: “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is trying to drag the state to a third election.”.
The former defence minister also took a swipe at the prime minister when he said: “I have no interest in joining the Likud. The party and Netanyahu have no connection to the Right.”
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