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Rivals call off Israel unity govt talks with Netanyahu

Gantz pulled out of planned talks after a deadlock [Getty]

Date of publication: 1 October, 2019

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Benny Gantz's Blue and White alliance on Tuesday pulled out of planned talks on forming a unity government with main rival Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The party of Israel's ex-military chief Benny Gantz on Tuesday pulled out of planned talks on forming a unity government with main rival Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu following deadlocked elections.

Representatives of the Blue and White alliance were set to meet on Wednesday with counterparts from Netanyahu's rightwing Likud, followed by a face-to-face encounter between the two rivals.

But on Tuesday night, following a two-day holiday to mark the Jewish New Year, Gantz's party announced it had cancelled the talks.

"At this stage, the pre-conditions upon which any further meetings between the negotiating teams may take place have not been met," Blue and White said in a statement.

"In view of this, no meeting will be held on Wednesday," it added, without ruling out talks at a later date.

"When deemed appropriate and necessary, an additional meeting will be scheduled for this week or next," the party said, adding that the head-to-head with Netanyahu had also been called off.

Since the deadlocked September 17 polls, Netanyahu has been scrambling to extend his run as Israel's longest-serving prime minister.

The embattled premier is also set Wednesday to attend a pre-indictment hearing led by Israel's attorney general, who has said he intends to charge Netanyahu with bribery, fraud and breach of trust.

Likud said in a statement that it was "stunned by Blue and White's decision to blow up the negotiations and cancel the meetings" on Wednesday.

"Netanyahu calls once again on Benny Gantz to show responsibility, to prevent new elections and to meet him as planned."

On Monday, Netanyahu's party in a statement said it would "make a last effort to realise the possibility of forming a government at this stage, before returning the mandate to the president." 

It called the latest round of negotiations a "big disappointment."

Blue and White accused Likud of "throwing around slogans with the sole aim of generating support in preparation for dragging Israel into another round of elections at the behest of Netanyahu."

This month's election was the second this year, after Netanyahu failed to form a coalition following April polls.

Israel marks the two-day Rosh Hashanah holiday beginning Sunday night and serious negotiations are not expected during that time.

Blue and White says Gantz must be prime minister first under any rotation arrangement, since it finished with the most seats in September 17 elections.

It also says it cannot serve in a government with an indicted premier and insists Likud negotiate on its own, not on behalf of the smaller parties supporting it.

Blue and White won 33 seats, just ahead of Likud's 32, but neither has a clear path to a majority coalition.

Gantz has 54 parliament members backing him for prime minister, but 10 are from Arab parties which say they will not serve in the ex-military chief's government.

Gantz has been accused of committing war crimes against Palestinians during his time in the military.

Rivlin tasked Netanyahu with trying to form a government Wednesday and he has 28 days to do so, with a two-week extension possible.

The deadlocked vote has threatened Netanyahu's reign as Israel's longest-serving prime minister.

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