Blue and White leader Benny Gantz speaks after the first elections exit polls. (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV)

Jerusalem Post/Israel Elections

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz is taking steps to ensure that he will receive the first mandate from President Reuven Rivlin to form the next government in time for consultations with the president that start Sunday, sources in Blue and White said on Thursday night.

Gantz already met earlier in the day with Democratic Union leader Nitzan Horowitz, and talks are taking place with the heads of Labor-Gesher, Yisrael Beytenu and the Joint List to ensure that he will have more than 61 recommendations and will receive Rivlin’s mandate.

Blue and White officials considered letting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu receive the mandate first, in hopes that he would fail so it would be easier to get Likud to overthrow him, but that strategy was not adopted.

The leaders of Blue and White rejected Netanyahu’s call on Thursday to form a government led by him that would also include parties to the right of Likud.

Netanyahu signed an agreement with three right-wing and religious parties to negotiate a coalition deal as one bloc of 55 MKs, but then called on Blue and White to begin immediate negotiations without preconditions. Channel 13 reported that Likud also made an offer to Labor-Gesher leader Amir Peretz, whose six seats could give Netanyahu the 61 he would need for a majority.

At a meeting of his faction in Tel Aviv, Gantz said it was not serious to come to negotiations with a political bloc.

“Blue and White is the largest party,” Gantz said. “We won 33 seats and Netanyahu did not succeed in winning the 61 seats for his bloc that he sought. I will build a broad and liberal government that will deliver the will of the people. We will not surrender to any dictate. The negotiations will be directed by me responsibly and with good judgment.”

Gantz’s co-leader Yair Lapid asked for patience, saying that building a government will take time and that in the meantime, there will be more attempts at political spin that should be ignored.

“The people did not put trust in Netanyahu, so he is trying to replace the people,” Lapid said. “The people of Likud are starting to realize it’s the beginning of the end for [Netanyahu]. One person is preventing the formation of a liberal unity government.”

Blue and White MK Moshe Ya’alon called upon right-wing and religious parties to shun Netanyahu, saying “With him, it will not happen.”

Netanyahu reached out to Gantz earlier during a speech he gave at the memorial ceremony for former president Shimon Peres.

“A broad unity government is what is demanded now,” he said. “I propose that we meet as soon as possible without preconditions to cooperate in establishing a broad unity government for all those who believe in Israel as Jewish and democratic state. There is no reason to go to another election. I am against it.”

Netanyahu recalled the unity government between Peres and his Likud rival Yitzhak Shamir, when the election results were similarly deadlocked, and they took turns serving as prime minister from 1984-1988.

“When there was no clear outcome from the Knesset election, Shimon chose national unity,” Netanyahu said. “He and Yitzhak Shamir agreed to cooperate to navigate Israel’s path to safety.”

Rivlin spoke of the necessity of ending the deadlock between Netanyahu and Gantz, and warned against a third election.

“I hear, loud and clear, the voices calling for a broad and stable national unity government,” Rivlin said. “I congratulate you, Mr. Prime Minister, on joining that call this morning. The responsibility for making it happen falls to you, elected officials – especially the leaders of the major parties.”

Starting Sunday, Rivlin will be hosting meetings with the heads of the nine parties that crossed the threshold in Tuesday’s election to see who they recommend to head the government.

“It is imperative that we convene as quickly as possible – as soon as the final picture of the votes is clear – in order to work toward forming a government that can serve the State of Israel and the people of Israel again,” Rivlin said. “For my part, I will do everything I can to prevent another general election. But the responsibility for this, as well as the responsibility for forming a government that serves all the citizens of Israel with the dedication it deserves, is yours – the elected officials, and especially the heads of the two major parties.”

During the event, he stood momentarily in between Netanyahu and Gantz and clasped both their hands together in a three-person handshake, symbolizing the kind of governmental union that could end the electoral deadlock.

“Our current situation, which has gone on for a long time with a transition government, grievously limits the ability of the government to act and to serve the citizens of Israel, and our ability to face the political, security and economic challenges we face,” Rivlin said. “When the factions come to me next week, they will have to explain to me and to us all what they intend to do to form a government for Israel as soon as possible.”

In a video statement, Netanyahu acknowledged that he promised a right-wing government during the campaign, but that “unfortunately, the results of the election showed it is not possible. The public did not decide between the two blocs.”

He called on Gantz to meet with him as soon as possible to start the process of forming a coalition together, confirming an exclusive report in Thursday’s Jerusalem Post. His office called Gantz’s aides to plan a one-on-one meeting on Thursday.

Netanyahu’s statement came after his meeting with the leaders of religious right-wing parties Yamina, Shas and United Torah Judaism. On Wednesday, the parties agreed to negotiate as a bloc, which amounted to 56 seats as of Wednesday night’s yet-incomplete vote count.

“A national unity government must be established with Netanyahu at its head, in which everyone who believes in a Jewish and democratic Israel is invited,” Yamina MK Naftali Bennett said. “We do not count out the haredim, Lapid and certainly not Netanyahu.”

But Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman said Netanyahu’s offer to Gantz was a deceptive trick designed to lead to a new election.

Liberman described the bloc of 56 seats of Likud, Shas, UTJ and Yamina, which united on Wednesday under Netanyahu’s leadership, as the “bloc of Jewish law,” and again called on Netanyahu to sit down with him and Gantz to form a government without any other parties.

“Forming the ‘bloc of Jewish law’ of 55 or 56 seats of the Likud, the ultra-Orthodox and the messianics and calling on Benny Gantz to join a national unity government with this bloc is nothing less than sleight of hand and the creation of a false impression to prepare public opinion for a third round of elections,” Liberman wrote on his Facebook page.

Liberman claimed that Netanyahu had no intention of establishing a government with Blue and White, and was laying the groundwork for blaming Gantz for the failure to form a new coalition and going to another election.

“Netanyahu, who is not prepared to accept the decision of the voters and admit his failure, is holding on to the corners of the altar and trying to give the impression that the Likud won the election, called for a unity government, and that Gantz and Liberman stymied this process,” said Liberman. “I call again on Prime Minister Netanyahu to stop the political tricks, schemes and maneuvers. You, Benny Gantz and I should sit and establish a broad, liberal, national unity government for the sake of the future of the State of Israel.

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