Israel's president held his second and final day of crucial talks to find a new prime minister and way out of political deadlock, as he met with the smaller parties elected in last week's vote. Reuven Rivlin was to hear from the remaining party leaders on Monday their recommendations for his choice to head a government.
Neither Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud nor Benny Gantz’s Blue and White could muster to win enough Knesset seats in the September 17 elections to form a clear majority coalition. Blue and White emerged with a slight advantage by winning 33 out of 120 seats, with Likud gaining 31 seats.
"There is one thing that the people are largely united over and that is the desire that there won't be third elections," Rivlin said.
The talks were to kick off with a meeting with the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party, followed by Ayelet Shaked's Yamina (an alliance of right-wing to far-right parties which dissolved an hour after the elections), the Labor-Gesher electoral alliance and the Democratic Union (an amalgamation of the left-wing Meretz, former Prime Minister Ehud Barak's newly established party and a former Labor lawmaker Stav Shaffir).
Deputy Minister of Health Yaakov Litzman from the United Torah Judaism was the first to speak, telling Rivlin his faction is backing Netanyahu “as promised.”
“It’s not a secret the former finance minister (Blue and White leader Yair Lapid) has critically wounded the ultra-Orthodox sector, which took us four years to fix,” said Litzman.
The Yamina faction, headed by Shaked who spoke on behalf of the party, also backed Netanyahu, saying the party will do “all that’s possible” to ensure the prime minister will be the one to form a new government.
“It needs to be explained to the leaders of the other parties that boycotts, whether personal and ideological, need to stop,” she said, referring to the infighting within the right-wing bloc. “We wanted to form a right-wing government, but the voters decided otherwise."
When asked by the president whether the faction would be willing to negotiate with Blue and White, the former justice minister said her party is “committed to Netanyahu.”
The dovish Labor-Gesher and the Democratic Union, on the other hand both sided with the Blue and White leader, pledging not to negotiate with Netanyahu's right-wing Likud.
"We really think it's time to change Israeli government,” said Labor Chairman Amir Peretz. “We’ve pledged not to negotiate with Benjamin Netanyahu and not to join any government headed by him.”
Gesher leader Orly Levy-Abekasis added their faction's recommendation "is not about replacing a person," but rather "replacing an agenda."
Meretz chairman and the Democratic Camp leader, Nitzan Horowitz, told the president they decided to form the faction “after concluding that Netanyahu's rule endangers Israeli democracy.”
“He (Netanyahu) campaigns against anyone who stands in his way. Those who criticize him are considered enemies,” Horowitz said. “There’s no doubt that Netanyahu is not worthy of being in office and it’s dangerous to give him that role.”
The largely ceremonial president is playing a key role after an almost tied election result. He is expected to announce his choice Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the Joint Arab List said it was withdrawing some of its members' recommendations for Gantz. That means the number of Gantz supporters is now slightly below Netanyahu's.