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Israel's Gantz requests more time to form government with Netanyahu

Negotiations have failed thus far to yield agreement, with Gantz's mandate set to expire just before midnight on Monday
Gantz had previously ruled out serving alongside prime minister under criminal indictment, but that was before coronavirus pandemic (AFP/File photo)

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

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

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

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

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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" amid the coronavirus pandemic.

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

Rivlin did not immediately respond to the request.

On Wednesday, Gantz had said unity government negotiations were halted because of Netanyahu’s demands to interfere with the work of the Judicial Appointments Committee, which is the body that appoints judges to Israeli courts, Haaretz said.

The Likud said Netanyahu 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.

Blue and White has repeatedly threatened that if an agreement is not signed, Gantz will advance a bill preventing a prime minister from serving under indictment, Haaretz reported.

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