Gantz urges Netanyahu to form emergency unity government

Jerusalem (AFP) –


Israeli parliament speaker Benny Gantz on Monday urged his rival Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to join him in an emergency unity government, as talks persisted on an interim alliance.

"Netanyahu, this is our moment of truth," Gantz said in a nationally-televised address, in a direct appeal to the veteran ring-wing premier for an accord to help Israel tackle COVID-19.

Gantz, an ex-military chief who heads the centrist Blue and White alliance, has squared off against Netanyahu in three inconclusive elections over the past year.

Neither man earned enough support in any of the votes to forge a stable governing coalition.

Following the most recent polls on March 2, Gantz was assigned the task of forming a government, in a mandate that expires at midnight.

But since his surprise decision to become parliament speaker late last month, Gantz has not been seeking to form a coalition that he would lead as prime minister.

Instead, he called for an alliance that would be led by Netanyahu for a defined period, allowing Israeli politics to have a rare moment of unity as it stares down an unprecedented health crisis.

"Israelis are expecting us to put aside our differences and work together," Gantz said.

"History will not forgive us if we fail."

Speaking earlier, Netanyahu said he would continue working towards a unity government.

While Gantz's mandate to form a government runs out a midnight, the next steps remain unclear.

President Reuven Rivlin could grant him an extension, or ask the Israeli Knesset, or parliament, to nominate someone else to try to build a coalition.

Rivlin also has the right to give Netanyahu his own four week window to form a government.

Netanyahu, in office since 2009, is Israel's longest-serving premier and the first to be indicted while in office.

The premier denies charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, filed against him in January.

Netanyahu critics have charged that he will stop at nothing to make the indictments disappear, including pushing for a fourth vote in the hope of finally gaining a parliamentary majority that could push through legislation granting him immunity from prosecution.