With a little over 24 hours left to form a coalition, Blue and White leader Benny Gantz met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Tuesday night in a fresh attempt to close the gaps on a unity government, with the two sharing a rotating premiership.
The two met for about an hour and did not issue a joint statement to the media after the meeting.
The talks between the Blue and White and Likud leaders came amid reports that senior Blue and White officials MKs Yair Lapid and Moshe Ya'alon had refused to join a Netanyahu-led government.
Blue and White officials later said that MK Gabi Ashkenazi also refuses to join a government headed by Netanyahu.
Gantz was tasked with forming a coalition after Netanyahu returned the mandate to Rivlin last month, saying he was unable to muster the 61 Knesset members needed for a majority government in the wake of the September 17 elections, the second national ballot in six months.
On Tuesday evening, President Reuven Rivlin issued a public reprimand of Netanyahu for implying that Israel's Arab community posed an existential threat to the country.
Netanyahu has in recent days lashed out at Gantz for what he said were efforts to form a minority government with external support from the predominantly Arab Joint List faction. Such a move, Netanyahu said, would be a gift to Israel's enemies Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas.
But Rivlin made clear that he found such comments unacceptable.
“The characterization of all Arab elected officials as a ‘threat’ to the existence of the State of Israel and as a ‘fifth column’ must be emphatically denounced," he said in a statement released following a meeting with the prime minister at the president's official residence in Jerusalem.
"We who live as sovereigns in our country, the Jewish and democratic State of Israel, must ensure equality of rights and respectful and meaningful discourse with all Israelis.”
Rivlin also repeated during the meeting his support for a national unity government comprising the two biggest parties. The president has fervently advocated for a unity government, insisting that the country cannot go through a third round of elections in a 12-month period.
Netanyahu held an ad hoc Monday meeting with members of his right-wing bloc, telling them that there was still controversy over the rotation question and that he and Gantz would discuss the matter Tuesday night.
He also told them he was trying to persuade Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Lieberman to agree to maintain the status quo over the separation of religion and civil affairs.
Blue and White have made it clear that they are still standing by the demand that Netanyahu give up his bloc of 55 MKs from the right-wing and religious parties, and negotiate only on behalf of the Likud.
One of the other points of contention between the two parties is the clause in an outline for a unity government drawn up by President Reuven Rivlin, which determines what would happen should Netanyahu be indicted in one or more of three corruption cases against him.
Under the clause, the premiership would operate on a rotational basis between Netanyahu and Gantz, with Netanyahu serving as prime minister for the first two years, followed by Gantz for a similar time period.
If Netanyahu is indicted, he will resign and pass the premiership directly to Gantz.
Blue and White officials said that they were "making every possible effort to prevent elections for the third time" in a year.
By law, if Gantz officially announces that he was able to form a government with Netanyahu, Knesset Speaker Edelstein has a week to set a date for a plenary session in which a vote of confidence in the new government is held.
The exact date is at the discretion of the speaker.
First published: 22:58 , 11.19.19