With Grain of Salt: Netanyahu Says Israeli Unity Gov’t ‘Still Possible’
According to Israeli media, a deal is in the works to form a unity government and stave off a third election in less than a year. Under the emerging agreement, Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu would remain prime minister for six months before stepping aside for Blue and White chief Benny Gantz in order to fight pending indictments in three corruption probes. Meanwhile, senior Blue and White lawmakers Yair Lapid and Gabi Ashkenazi would be named foreign minister and defense minister, respectively, whereas the Likud would maintain control over the treasury while senior party member Yuli Edelstein continues to serve as parliament speaker. Notably, the reports made no mention of Yisrael Beiteinu head Avigdor Liberman, who has been playing the part of “kingmaker” following inconclusive elections in April and September. However, Blue and White (33) and Likud (32) together have enough mandates to form a majority government in the 120-member legislature without bringing other parties into the fold. Perhaps not coincidentally, some of Yisrael Beitenu’s eight parliamentarians are reportedly pushing Liberman to backtrack on his campaign pledge not to join a narrow coalition led by Netanyahu comprised of right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties. Netanyahu and Gantz met for 45 minutes on Tuesday, and thereafter traded mutual recriminations despite the prime minister having earlier said that a deal was “still possible.” If no breakthrough is achieved by a December 11 deadline, parliament will be disbanded and a national vote will be scheduled sometime between late February and mid-March. Most analysts believe this is the likeliest eventuality.