Photo Credit: Kobi Gideon / GPO
President Reuven Rivlin meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue & White faction leader Benny Gantz at the President's Residence to discuss the possibility of an emergency unity government. March 15, 2020

Blue&White party chairman Knesset Speaker Benny Gantz’s mandate to try and from a coalition government ends on Monday night at midnight. Gantz has already requested from President Ruby Rivlin a two-week extension on the basis that he is attempting to form a unity government during this time of crisis.

According to various reports on the negotiations, there are currently two major points of contention between the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party and Blue&White.

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The first is the Likud wants sovereignty applied as soon as possible to the settlements in Judea and Samaria and to the Jordan Valley, while the window of opportunity under President Donald Trump is still open, but Blue&White does not. In particular, MK Gabi Ashkenazi is afraid that applying sovereignty over the Jordan Valley will be the final nail in the coffin of what has turned into a relatively hollow and one-sided peace treaty with Jordan.

The second is that two High Court judges are up for replacement in the near future, and the Likud wants to makes sure those seats are filled by conservative judges, while Blue&White does not. Current negotiations gives the Justice Ministry to Blue&White, and Blue&White wants to give that ministerial position to the far left MK Avi Nisenkorn who would also roll back all the advances made under former justice minister’s Ayelet Shaked (Yamina).

President Rivlin has three options available to him at this juncture.

The first is to grant a two-week extension to Gantz to continue a negotiation that appears to be deadlocked and not happening at all. The second is to hand the mandate over to Netanyahu for three weeks, to see if the ticking clock helps break the deadlock. And the third option is to pass over Netanyahu completely, and skip ahead to step three which is to hand the mandate over to the Knesset, which would then leave only three weeks for the Knesset to select a prime minister and build a coalition, otherwise, Israel heads to a fourth election.

The primary advantage the last option offers is that the shortened time-frame would significantly increase the pressure for compromise. It is unlikely there would be a realistic third candidate vying for the top spot and able to form a coalition.

It is unclear what could happen if Israel does go to a fourth election.

Currently, polls show the Likud and the right (without Avigdor Liberman’s party) gaining a solid majority. But that’s now, in the middle of the coronavirus crisis which Netanyahu seems to be managing well. What would happen if people go to vote in September while not just the economy but their personal financial states are a complete disaster, is anyone’s guess.

Within the Likud, they are afraid that Rivlin will skip ahead to step three and hand the mandate over to the Knesset, but even if Rivlin does that, not much is expected to change in terms of who is negotiating over what. The only differences is that there will be only a few short weeks to reach one conclusion or another, and the off-chance that it may grant Naftali Bennett’s Yamina party an opportunity to pressure Netanyahu for better representation within the coalition.

Each side wants to hold onto the mandate for as long as possible, as anything can happen that turns the tide. Within the Likud there are still those that imagine Blue&White’s token right-wingers Zvi Hauser and Yoaz Hendel may jump ship from Gantz to the right, and then along with Orly Levy-Abekasis, Netanyahu can form a right-wing government without Gantz at all. But both Hauser and Hendel have made it clear they will only support a unity government.

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