By Ana Cárdenes
Jerusalem, Apr 14 (efe-epa).- Israel’s president Reuven Rivlin has granted a last-minute request from prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his rival Benny Gantz for more time in their negotiations to form a coalition government.
The two sides will resume their acrimonious discussions after the deadline was pushed back by 48 hours.
Rivlin had previously said he would not approve an extension beyond midnight on Monday but eventually agreed after a joint request by Gantz and Netanyahu.
They will continue to try and reach an agreement to form a government that can command a simple majority in Israel’s parliament, 61 of its 120 members, by midnight on Wednesday.
Gantz’s party, Blue and White, was unable to form a coalition despite having received more endorsements from lawmakers than Netanyahu after Israel’s elections in March.
If he fails to secure a cabinet, Gantz’s chances of succeeding at the ballots without his partners and after another bruising failure would be greatly reduced, with Netanyahu victory in a future vote likely after surveys showed an increase in his popularity.
The coronavirus crisis has allowed him to give almost daily addresses to the country as the leader and problem-solver and to display his close relations with international leaders such as United States President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The latest polls, broadcast on Monday on Israel’s Channel 12, gave Netanyahu’s party Likud 40 deputies, up from its current 36, which would guarantee a simple majority with its traditional, right-wing and ultra-Orthodox partners.
Gantz’s party would go from 33 seats to 19, after the dissolution of the coalition he has led so far.
Both had announced “significant progress” in their negotiations and Israelis took it for granted that they would soon have a government, after nearly a year and a half without a functioning executive.
A pact was drawn up including the distribution of positions and an alternation between the two as head of government, beginning with Netanyahu for the first year and a half.
But negotiations broke down last week, with Gantz publicly declaring that he wanted a coalition “but not at any price”.
One of the main disagreements was a sudden change of opinion by Netanyahu on the appointment of judges, according to analysts and the media.
The country’s justice system has been an extremely sensitive issue, as Netanyahu is accused of three serious crimes relating to breach of trust, accepting bribes and fraud.
Another thorny issue is his fear that the supreme court will decide he cannot serve as prime minister with these allegations hanging over him.
There have also been disagreements regarding Likud’s intentions to annex parts of the occupied West Bank, a contentious issue that has been widely rejected by the international community and over which Gantz has demanded having veto power.
The heads of the two leading parties must present a government before midnight on Wednesday.
If they do not succeed, Rivlin has said he will not hand over the mandate to a new candidate, but would transfer the responsibility to parliament.
The Knesset would have 21 days to choose a deputy to entrust the formation of a cabinet.