Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his rival Benny Gantz failed to reach a deal after they met Wednesday for the third time since Monday, in a last-moment attempt to form a national unity government to confront the ongoing health emergency and the upcoming economic crisis.
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Sources close to Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin said he would not extend Gantz's mandate once more if the negotiations stall, after already agreeing Monday to two days extension, according to Haaretz.
This umpteenth failure comes after talks had reached an impasse over the issue of the judiciary. Netanyahu's right-wing Likud is pushing to change the makeup of the Judicial Appointments Committee, which is the body that appoints judges to Israeli courts, an amendment that Gantz refuses.
Another matter the two sides disagree on is a bill that would ensure Gantz is sworn in as prime minister after Netanyahu following a rotation agreement. Netanyahu fears the bill benefits the Blue and White party without blocking the possibility of his disqualification to serve on by Israel’s High Court of Justice, as his trial in three corruption cases is impending.
But with regard to the illegally occupied Palestinian territories, both leaders share the same position. Both of them think the fourth Geneva Convention - which states: “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” - does not apply to Israeli settlements. Both of them have also approved Washington’s “peace deal” for the Middle East, a plan that has killed Palestinian’s hopes for a two-state solution.
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If a deal between the two parties is not reached, it will be up to the Knesset (parliament) to pick a candidate who would then have 14 days to form a government. If that fails too, there will be another election and an extension to the political deadlock at a time of national crisis.
Gantz had vowed during his campaigns that he would never sit in a government led by Netanyahu as long as the PM faces corruption charges. But the former general changed his position due to the gravity of the coronavirus crisis, he said. His decision drew heavy criticism from his anti-Netanyahu supporters and caused his Blue and White alliance to dissolve.
The outcome of his decision appeared to have weakened him while strengthening Netanyahu.
According to Israel’s Channel 12 News poll, if an election was to be held now, Netanyahu’s Likud would earn 40 seats, four more than the party gained in the March 2 election. Blue and White party would see a significant drop with 19 seats in the poll.
As of Wednesday, Israel has reported more than 12,500 COVID-19 cases and at least 130 deaths. Measures to halt the spread of the disease have confined most Israelis to their homes, forcing businesses to shut down and sending unemployment to an unprecedented 25 percent.