Israel’s main parties begin talks on coalition government

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel’s two largest parties met yesterday to discuss the possibility of forming a unity government, in a long-shot effort to solve the political paralysis that has emerged from last week’s deadlocked national elections.

The meeting between party representatives comes a day after Blue and White leader Benny Gantz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of the rival Likud party held their first working meeting since the vote. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin brought them together in hopes of breaking an impasse that could send the nation into months of political limbo and potentially force a third election in less than a year.

“We took a significant step this evening, and now the main challenge is building a direct channel of communication out of trust between the two sides,” Rivlin told the two rivals.

“People expect you to find a solution and to prevent further elections, even if it comes at a personal and even ideological cost.”

Israel’s President is responsible for choosing a candidate for Prime Minister after national elections. That task is usually a formality, but it is far more complicated this time since neither of the top two candidates can build a stable parliamentary majority on his own.

Rivlin summoned Gantz and Netanyahu for another summit last Wednesday before making his decision. No breakthrough is expected, and it is unclear which way Rivlin is leaning.

Gantz’s centrist Blue and White came in first in the elections, with 33 seats, trailed by Netanyahu’s Likud with 31.

With smaller allied parties, 55 lawmakers have thrown their support behind Netanyahu, against 54 for Gantz, leaving both men short of the required 61-seat majority. A unity deal between the large parties, with a rotating leadership, is seen as perhaps the only way out of the gridlock. That’s what Avigdor Lieberman, the kingmaker leader of the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beitenu, party is insisting upon. Lieberman, who controls eight seats, has refused to endorse either candidate and is demanding they join him in a broad, secular unity government that excludes the ultra-Orthodox parties — Netanyahu’s long-time partners.

Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz (L), the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Israel Esther Hayut and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. PHOTO: AP