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Ganz, Lapid accuse Netanyahu of halting coalition talks

Black and white President Benny Ganz said Monday that no progress was made towards a unity government during his first meeting with Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu after being tapped to form a coalition, but the centrist alliance leader said that will continue its efforts to avoid a third election.

Ganz called Sunday's sitting with Netanyahu "business" but complained, "unfortunately no tangible progress has been made."

"The ruling party does not want to hold a practical discussion of policy guidelines," the Blue and White president told reporters ahead of a meeting of factions in the Knesset.

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"We will continue to talk to everyone and listen to the small parties and will not allow them to dictate the whole public agenda," he added.

(By LR) Moshe Halolon, Jair Lapid and President Benny Ganz attend a meeting of the Blue and White factions in Knesset on October 28, 2019. (Hadas Parush / Flash90)

Following word from their leader, Blue and White announced that Ganz will meet with Ayman Odeeh, head of the Alliance of Arab Majority Party Alliance lists, in Tel Aviv on Thursday. Likud accused the Blue and White of wanting to form a minority government with outside support from the Common List. Ganz's party has never expressed interest in such a scenario, and many blue and white MKs have ruled it out completely.

Blue and white No. 2 Jair Lapid has stepped up rhetoric against Netanyahu in his remarks ahead of a faction meeting, accusing the prime minister of posing when he still had a mandate to try to form a government.

"You will tell the difference between Netanyahu's 28 days and our 28 days," he said. "Netanyahu did not try to form a government. We try everything. I know what the negotiations for forming a government look like. I saw Netanyahu, I was in the room with him when he wanted to form a government. "

"It is possible to form a government within 48 hours. All Benjamin Netanyahu has to do is agree to be second in the rotation deal, "Lapid said.

Blue and White Leader Benny Ganz and Leader Hysaral Beitun Avigdor Lieberman shake hands before a December 28, 2019 meeting (courtesy)

Also Monday, Ganz met with Hissaral Beitu President Avigdor Lieberman for their first talks, after the "blue-white" head was appointed prime minister.

The two sides issued a joint statement saying it was being held "in a positive atmosphere". Lieberman is considered to have played a key role in forming a unity government and insisted that such a coalition does not include the Joint List, the Left Democratic Camp or any of the religious parties.

The joint statement said the meeting addressed "among other things, security issues, the state budget, possible political scenarios and other topics". A meeting will be held soon between the negotiating teams on both sides, the statement added.

Speaking to reporters ahead of a meeting of Fisaral Beitu's faction and after his meeting with Gantz, Lieberman said he would not support "personal legislation" to allow Netanyahu to continue serving as prime minister while being indicted.

Lieberman also said that a "tight" government, if established, would not be able to make critical decisions on security and economic development.

On Sunday, Likud negotiators met with their blue-and-white counterparts in their inaugural effort to break the political ladder that forced Netanyahu to return the government's mandate back to President Reuven Rivlin last week.

There was also no progress at that meeting, with Blue and White saying afterwards Likud representatives had refused to insist that they would enter government with the rest of the right-wing, religious bloc. Likud's leading negotiator, Tourism Minister Hariv Levin, meanwhile, said in a statement that the blue and white arbitrators had refused to accept Rivlin's unity government proposal, which would see Netanyahu serve as prime minister in the rotation agreement.

The government scheme of that president's unity would see power equally divided between Netanyahu and Ganz, each of whom would have been prime minister for two years.

Blue-white party leader Benny Ganz (L) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met at the IDC headquarters in Tel Aviv on October 27, 2019. (Ellad Malka)

Rivlin implied, but did not specify, that Netanyahu would take open leave if or when he was indicted on one or more of the probes facing charges. Under Rivlin's arrangement, Ganz, as a "temporary prime minister" in such a scenario, would enjoy all prime ministerial power.

Following a meeting of negotiators, Sinn and White said they were trying to form a government "assuming and understanding that the mandate currently holds … Ganz, thus appointing him prime minister".

Entering Sunday's meeting, Levin issued a statement saying it represents "the entire 55-member right-wing bloc" at the sitting.

The day after last month's election, the leaders of the Shara and United Torah ultra-Orthodox Judaism parties, along with Likud and the Jamien leaf (which has since disintegrated in the New Right and the Jewish Home National Union), are all agreed to enter into coalition negotiations as a united front of 55 denars.

President Reuven Rivlin presents "Blue and White" party leader Benny Ganz with the mandate to form a new Israeli government following the failure of Benjamin Netanyahu at the President's residence in Jerusalem on October 23, 2019. (Jonathan Sindel / Flash90)

While the Blue and White have made clear that his primary interest is a government of unification with Likud, the centrist alliance said last week it wants to negotiate with the parties individually. Ganz urged leaders of all parties, except the hard-line faction "Ballad" (part of the Common List), to schedule meetings in a bid to coalition together. However, I, UTC, Rightu Right and the Jewish House have said they will allow Likud negotiators led by Levin to speak on their behalf.

During elections last month, leaders in blue and white said they would try to form a government without Jared and hard-line religious parties.

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