Deadline Expires for Israel Power-Sharing Talks Without Deal

(Bloomberg) -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and rival Benny Gantz failed to reach a power-sharing deal by a midnight Wednesday deadline, making a fourth round of back-to-back elections increasingly likely.

President Reuven Rivlin on Thursday gave parliament three weeks to find any candidate within its ranks who is able to form a government. Among other things, that could allow for the power-sharing talks to continue on another footing, and the sides said they intend to resume negotiations on Thursday.

If no one can build a coalition, then a new national poll will be set to try to break the political paralysis that’s gripped the country since Netanyahu first called early elections in December 2018, setting in motion three inconclusive votes.

The talks began with a declared urgency on behalf of the bitter rivals to close ranks to tackle the coronavirus crisis and the damage a near-lockdown has wrought on the economy. But as the weeks went by, the outlook for their success darkened even as the toll from the health emergency mounted.

The number of confirmed virus cases has topped 12,000, with 140 dead. The economy is forecast to shrink by 5.3% this year, according to the Bank of Israel. Unemployment has surged to 26% and the Finance Ministry sees it still hovering around 10% at the end of the year.

Israeli media reported that negotiations faltered over last-minute demands by Netanyahu related to his indictment in three graft cases. Gantz’s retreat from his vow not to serve with the indicted prime minister led his Blue and White bloc to splinter after it had confronted Netanyahu with his most formidable rival in more than a decade.

Israel Set for Unity Government as Anti-Netanyahu Bloc Splits

The prime minister is accused of illicitly accepting gifts and scheming with media moguls to influence legislation to their benefit in exchange for sympathetic coverage. His trial is due to begin in late May, and retaining power would give him an opportunity to try to push through legislation shielding a sitting leader from prosecution.

From Netanyahu’s point of view, a revote might be the preferred option, said Jonathan Spyer, researcher at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security.

“Although cynical and Machiavellian, this might not be a dreadful possibility for Netanyahu,” Spyer said before the talks foundered. “He has splintered and destroyed Gantz’s Blue and White list, and polls are indicating a good situation for right-wing coalition allies due to public satisfaction with the handling of the coronavirus.”

The latest poll showed the nationalist-religious camp led by Netanyahu capturing 64 of parliament’s 120 seats if elections were to be held today.

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