Israel’s Benny Gantz requests more time to form government with Netanyahu

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Israel’s Benny Gantz requested Saturday more time to try join forces with erstwhile rival Benjamin Netanyahu, as the former general’s mandate to form a government was nearing expiration.

Gantz had nearly four weeks ago received the mandate from President Reuven Rivlin to try to build a coalition following the March 2 general election, Israel’s third in less than one year.

With no clear path to the necessary parliamentary majority among the anti-Netanyahu bloc, the former chief of Israeli military had on March 26 facilitated his election to parliament speaker and called for an emergency unity government in a clear indication of an alliance with the incumbent premier.

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Negotiations between the sides, however, have failed thus far to yield an agreement, with Gantz’s ultimatum set to expire just before midnight on Monday.

A statement from Gantz’s Blue and White said he had “requested a two week extension from Rivlin” to form a government with Netanyahu, noting Israel’s “health and social crisis” in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I believe that we are close to signing an agreement, and that with additional time an agreement can be finalized,” Gantz told Rivlin of his party’s negotiations with Netanyahu’s Likud.

Rivlin did not immediately respond to the request.

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The Likud meanwhile said Netanyahu had on Saturday invited Gantz and his negotiators for talks “tonight,” stressing the “goodwill and national responsibility to form a unity government as soon as possible.”

Blue and White responded by saying talks would not be conducted “through the media.”

Gantz’s move to become parliamentary speaker caused two partners to split off from the Blue and White alliance, which had positioned itself as the alternative to Netanyahu.

Netanyahu is the first Israeli premier to be indicted while in office, after being formally charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust in January.

The veteran premier, in office since 2009, denies the charges.

Gantz had previously ruled out serving alongside a prime minister under criminal indictment, but that was before the coronavirus pandemic unfolded.

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