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Israel's ex-army chief Gantz gets shot at forming government

By AFP - Mar 16,2020 - Last updated at Mar 16,2020

OCCUPIED JERUSALEM — Israel's ex-military chief Benny Gantz was nominated Monday to try to form a government but further talks were expected with his bitter rival, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on an emergency alliance to fight coronavirus.

Gantz, who heads the centrist Blue and White party, called for "unity" and urged Netanyahu to join him as Israel seeks to end a crippling political stalemate after three inconclusive elections in less than a year.

"We must not have a fourth election," Gantz said, after he was formally nominated by President Reuven Rivlin to attempt to form an administration.

"I'll do everything to form in as few days as possible a national, patriotic and broad government."

Gantz won recommendations on Sunday from 61 lawmakers, a razor thin majority in the 120-member parliament, the Knesset.

His backers did not include Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party, but Rivlin has urged the two men to work together in an emergency government to effectively respond to the coronavirus pandemic.

“It is possible that forming a government quickly will require interim arrangements for the coming months,” Rivlin said on Monday, citing the “national and international emergency”.

Rivlin later addressed the new Knesset, with lawmakers having their temperatures taken before being brought into the chamber in twos and threes, to reduce risk of virus transmission.

In remarks to a chamber empty but for Netanyahu and Gantz, he implored all lawmakers to end the impasse.

“The citizens of Israel are exhausted,” the president said.

“I have just one request to make of you. Give [them] a government.”

Gantz’s path to a longer-term stable coalition is difficult given the deep divisions within the factions that backed him, which include the mainly Arab Joint List and the nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu, which are bitter foes.

Gantz has 28 days to forge a government, a task which proved impossible for any candidate following the two elections last year.

Netanyahu — Israel’s longest-serving premier and the first ever to be indicted in office, on graft charges — has insisted that voters in the March 2 election gave him a mandate to continue as prime minister.

The vote saw Likud secure the most seats but, along with its religious party allies, it fell three seats short of a majority.

Gantz made calls to Netanyahu’s religious allies on Monday, but was rebuffed for now.

The head of the religious, nationalist Yemina party, Defence Minister Naftali Bennett, urged Gantz to let Netanyahu lead a short-term emergency government.

The head of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism, Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, told Gantz he was focused on the fight against coronavirus and remained solidly behind Netanyahu.

Rivlin has made clear he wants a government in place soon to help Israel beat back the pandemic.

The president had summoned Gantz and Netanyahu on Sunday for an “urgent conversation”, which ended without agreement, but Likud and Blue and White said the talks would continue.


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