Netanyahu, Gantz Say Progress Made in Unity Talks, Aim to Agree on Terms Sunday

The two will promote a bill allowing Netanyahu to stay in government after his turn as premier ends in October 2021

Benny Gantz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Knesset, Jerusalem, October 11, 2019.
Ohad Zweygberg

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz issued a joint statement Sunday announcing they made meaningful progress toward a unity government.

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The two leaders met in the Prime Minister's Residence on Saturday night and are expected to meet again on Sunday. 

Gantz blindsided many of his voters and parliamentary allies last week when he nominated himself and was elected for the role of Knesset speaker. The maneuver, supported by Netanyahu's right-wing bloc, caused the splitting of Gantz's Kahol Lavan party, with its Yesh Atid component vowing to remain in the opposition.

Avigdor Lieberman expressed surprise at the news that Gantz would be joining Netanyahu, believing the move was "wrong and even ludicrous." The Yisrael Beiteinu chairman, considered until now to be the election kingmaker, said it was obvious "Netanyahu would pull [Gantz] in." Nevertheless, he did not rule out the possibility of joining their government.

On Saturday, it was reported that Gantz and Netanyahu would advance legislation to allow Netanyahu to serve in government despite his indictment in three corruption cases, even after he relinquishes the post of prime minister in 18 months.

The move is at the center of coalition negotiations for a rotating unity government in which Netanyahu will first serve as premier and will then become deputy.

The new legislation modifies the position of deputy prime minister to be similar in authority to a minister without portfolio, but also possess veto power on key appointments and the ability to serve despite criminal charges. 

Netanyahu’s trial, so long as it remains an orderly process, is not expected to end within the next year and a half. The only way Netanyahu can serve as a minister while indicted is by changing the Basic Law on the Knesset in order to explicitly nullify the so-called Dery-Pinhasi policy, which is based on two High Court rulings barring indicted ministers from serving.