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Netanyahu says he proposed to serve as prime minister first, but Ganz gets more time at the helm



Hebrew-language media rose speculation Tuesday about potential deals offered during negotiations between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party and Benny Ganz's Blue and White party in a bid to achieve a unity government.

Teams from both parties had previously held a 90-minute meeting in an attempt to resolve the political deadlock ahead of last week's national elections.

After midnight on Tuesday, the Central Election Committee revised the results, giving Likud additional damages to the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism.

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The change gives Likud 32 seats, yet one behind the Blue and White. It drops UTJ from eight to seven, but does not change the balance of power with Likud and UTC in the same block. There are 33 blue and white.

Netanyahu and Ganz have agreed to launch talks on a possible unity government after a meeting organized by President Reuven Rivlin on Monday night. Rivlin invited the two leaders – both seeking a Prime Ministerial solution – to return to the President's residence on Wednesday night. Rivlin is due by October 2 to charge one of them for the task of building a majority coalition.

Channel 13 reported that one of Netanyahu's proposals was for the current prime minister to go into rotation first, but that Gantz would get more time in return – up to three in the next four years.

The Fnet site announced that the parties had agreed that any first prime minister would relinquish control of two of the three senior portfolios: the Foreign Office, the Treasury or the Defense Ministry.

Meanwhile, the Vala website has reported that Likud has proposed a right-wing religious bloc (Likud, I, United Torah Judaism and Jamien) which has 55 seats to receive half of the portfolios, while Sino and Belo, 33, will receive the other half.

Netanyahu insists he is negotiating on behalf of the entire bloc, while Gantz says he only deals with Likud.

Meanwhile, the public broadcaster Khan has reported that Likud sources believe Ganz is open to serving under Netanyahu in a rotation deal, despite all his promises to the contrary. Ganz denied the report.

Blue and white leader Benny Ganz looks at a press conference in the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv on September 19, 2019. (JACK GOUZ / AFP)

Khan also cited Likud's alleged claims of blue-and-white secularists, including public transport on Shabbat, the Jewish holiday of the day; civil marriage; the cancellation of a law limiting the option of municipalities to open groceries in Shabbat; passing a controversial law that regulates a draft of ultra-Orthodox students from a military seminary; and endorsing a compromise agreement on a pluralistic West Beach.

Tourism Minister Hariv Levin led Likud's negotiating team at a meeting Monday with blue-and-white Joram Turboich, a former aide to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Less than an hour after the talks ended, the Blue and White and Likud issued a joint statement that shines a light on the main bone of contention: whom Levin represents.

"Horam Turboich wanted to emphasize that for him, Minister Levin represented the Prime Minister and Likud, while Minister Levin pointed out that he represented all 55 members of the right-wing bloc," the statement said.

According to the statement, the sitting "dealt with the problems and kept them in good spirits".

"The two agreed to update the Prime Minister and the Blue and White President on the content of the meeting and then decide on the next steps," the report said.

Netanyahu last week had the "Jamien", "I" and "United Torah Judaism" (UTC) parties negotiate as a group with Likud, after elections that saw right-wing and religious parties fail to garner enough support. forming a coalition of theirs. Ganz and his center-left partners have also failed to take the required 61 seats in the 120-member Knesset, leaving the secular nationalist party Cizre Bejtun in the eight-seat queen position.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with the right-wing and leaders of Mr Kharadi's factions in his Jerusalem office on September 18, 2019. (Courtesy Likud)

The prime minister met on Monday for the first time with Ganz at Rivlin's residence and agreed to start talks on building a unity coalition.

Netanyahu assured his religious right-wing political partners that he would abide by his pact to negotiate as a bloc with them. At the same time, Ganz has told his party members that he will not abandon his promise before voters refuse to allow Netanyahu to remain prime minister, indicating that the political sheet that left Israel without a government can last for months.

Rivlin invited Ganz and Netanyahu to a private dinner Wednesday, after meeting with the two on Monday.

Ganz has insisted he is in charge of any unity government and has ruled out sitting with Netanyahu because of his pending prosecution charges. In the final weeks of the election campaign, Ganz also pledged to form a "secular" government and rejected a partnership with Haas and the UTC.

Following Monday's meeting, the Blue and White said Gantz had said Netanyahu's unity was not possible unless he stepped down as prime minister.

Netanyahu and Ganz met on Monday for more than two hours at the president's residence, first with Rivlin, and then alone, with talks reportedly centered on who would lead the possible joint government. Rivlin returned to speak with the two again before the meeting ended.

Since Gantz and Netanyahu met on their own, Rivlin's office said it had told Netanyahu and Gantz that the Israelis did not want other elections and that it was up to them to overcome the grid.

"The responsibility for establishing a government rests with you, and the people expect you to find a solution and prevent further elections, even if it is a matter of personal and even ideological price. This is not the time to exclude people, "he said.

Rivlin told Ganz and Netanyahu that since no one had provided a majority of recommendations for the formation of the next government, he had a longer way to go in order to do so. His decision on who will be the next prime minister must come by 2 October.


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