Talks between representatives from the Likud party and its rival, Blue and White, over the possibility of forming a unity government began Sunday morning at the Knesset, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expected to tell President Reuven Rivlin that he is unable to form a majority government if the negotiations fail.
Netanyahu’s Likud party said Saturday the prime minister is considering “returning the mandate” given to him by Rivlin to form a government should the talks end without result, while blaming Blue and White for the deadlock.
Netanyahu was charged by Rivlin on Wednesday night with trying to form a government based on the strength of his pact with right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties to negotiate as a bloc of 55 MKs, and given 28 days to do so. Gantz, his rival, heads a bloc of 54 MKs from the center, left and Arab parties, but the 10 Arab MKs in that group would not join a Gantz-led coalition. Neither candidate has a clear path to a 61-strong Knesset majority.
Rivlin therefore proposed a unity government in which power would be equally divided and Netanyahu and Gantz would each serve two years as prime minister. Rivlin implied, but did not specify, that Netanyahu would take an open-ended leave of absence if or when he is indicted in one or more of the three criminal probes in which he faces charges, including one count of bribery, pending a hearing. Under the arrangement set out by Rivlin, Gantz, as “interim prime minister,” would enjoy all prime ministerial authority.
Netanyahu has not said he would step down if charged, and, under Israeli law, may not be required to do so. Many legal scholars believe a prime minister could remain in power even if convicted, and would only be required to resign once all appeal processes were exhausted. Blue and White has said that it will not partner Likud in a coalition unless Netanyahu steps down.
On Saturday, the Likud party said in a statement that Netanyahu instructed his negotiating team “to make every possible effort to advance a broad unity government” during talks on Sunday. Should Blue and White refuse to accept the president’s proposed framework or propose a “realistic” alternative, it added, however, “Netanyahu is very likely to return the mandate.”
To do so, Netanyahu would have to officially inform the president that he is unable to form a government.