Gantz meets Netanyahu for Israeli coalition talks

Jerusalem (AFP) –


Israeli challenger Benny Gantz met Sunday with incumbent prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu for talks to try and put together a coalition government in the wake of two inconclusive general elections.

It was their first round of direct talks since president Reuven Rivlin on Wednesday tasked ex-military chief Gantz with trying to form a government.

Following the deadlocked elections on September 17, Netanyahu had tried to form a coalition, but finally gave up on October 21 -- his second such failure this year.

A joint statement from Netanyahu's Likud and Gantz's Blue and White alliance after Sunday's meeting however did not herald any breakthrough.

"The two discussed the structure of political options available," the English-language statement said.

"Another meeting is anticipated between the two."

Earlier Sunday the side's negotiating teams met in what Blue and White called "good spirits".

The joint statement released later said they "would continue to communicate".

Both Likud and Blue and White say they want a unity government, but disagree on how to achieve it.

Likud has been seeking to negotiate based on a compromise set out by Rivlin that takes into account the possibility the premier will be indicted for corruption in the coming weeks.

It could see him remain prime minister for now, but step aside at some point later as he combats the charges.

Gantz would take over as acting premier under such a scenario.

Blue and White says Gantz should be prime minister first under any rotation arrangement since his party won the most seats, finishing with 33 compared to Likud's 32.

Whoever wants to govern needs to find partners with which to control a majority of at least 61 seats in the 120-member Israeli parliament.