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Israel’s main parties begin talks on coalition government

President Reuven Rivlin brought them together in the hope of breaking an impasse.

Reuven Rivlin (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner, File)
Reuven Rivlin (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner, File)

By Aron Heller, Associated Press

Israel’s two largest parties have met to discuss the possibility of forming a unity government, in a long-shot effort to break the political deadlock following last week’s national elections.

The meeting between party representatives came 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.

President Reuven Rivlin brought them together in the hope of breaking an impasse that could lead to months of political limbo and potentially force a third election in less than a year.

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Benjamin Netanyahu (Ariel Schalit/AP)

“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,” he 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. The 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.

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

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Benny Gantz (Sebastian Scheiner/AP)

On Tuesday, negotiators from the two parties met for what they described in a joint statement as a “matter-of-fact” meeting “held in good spirits”.

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

With smaller allied parties, a total of 55 legislators have thrown their support behind Mr Netanyahu, against 54 for Mr 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 is what Avigdor Lieberman, the leader of the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party, is insisting on.

Mr 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.

PA

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