New Israel elections loom as Gantz says can't form govt

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during an extended faction meeting of the right-wing bloc members at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019. (AP)
Updated 20 November 2019

New Israel elections loom as Gantz says can't form govt

  • If Israel is forced into a third election, it would be entering uncharted waters, with opinion polls already predicting a very similar deadlock

JERUSALEM: Israel edged ever closer to a third general election in a year Wednesday, as Benny Gantz announced his Blue and White coalition -- the winner of the most seats in September's national poll -- was unable to form a government.
The centrist former army general, whose party was narrowly ahead of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing Likud after those elections, said he had tried everything during his 28-day negotiation period to secure a majority in Israel's 120-seat parliament.
"I raised every stone to try and form a national unity government," he said in a speech after informing President Reuven Rivlin he would be handing back the mandate.
"I ran into a wall of losers who did everything to prevent Israeli citizens from benefitting from a government under my leadership."
Incumbent Netanyahu, who has been in power since 2009, had been the first to be handed a 28-day negotiation period by Rivlin, but was unsuccessful in the task of forming a coalition, prompting the president to give Gantz the same opportunity.
Rivlin will now hand the mandate to the Israeli parliament, which has three weeks to try and find a candidate capable of getting the backing of the majority of the country's 120 lawmakers.
If that period passes without a breakthrough, new elections will be called for early 2020 -- the third national polls within 12 months.
Polls held last April also led to stalemate in a proportional system reliant on coalition building.
Netanyahu, who is fighting corruption allegations he denies, would remain caretaker leader until the new elections.
Netanyahu responded immediately after Gantz's announcement, saying he remained open to talks in the coming weeks.
"Israel needs a government of national unity and that is why in the name of the security of Israel and in the name of the will of the people, we must form this government together," he said, addressing Gantz.
Gantz's negotiation period was due to expire at midnight Wednesday but his hopes of forming a government were in effect dashed at lunchtime when potential kingmaker Avigdor Lieberman announced he would not back him.
The former defence minister's Yisrael Beitenu party has eight seats and held the balance of power between Gantz's and Netanyahu's blocs.
Lieberman had refused to join either coalition, accusing Gantz of being reliant upon the support of Israel's Arab parties and Netanyahu of being slave to the whims of ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties.
Instead, the former defence minister favoured forming a unity government between his party, Likud and Blue and White.
Both Gantz and Netanyahu said they supported the proposal -- which would entail rotating the premiership -- but disagreed who should be prime minister first.
Talks had continued late into Tuesday but collapsed into mutual accusations of blame.
Lieberman said both Gantz and Netanyahu had put their personal interests ahead of the country's.
"If we are dragged to new elections it will be because of a lack of leadership," he said.
A 60-year-old former paratrooper, Gantz had no previous political experience when he declared himself Netanyahu's electoral rival in December.
But he has posed the most serious challenge to Netanyahu since he became premier in 2009.
New elections would be deeply unpopular with the public, but columnist Ben Caspit, writing in the Maariv daily Wednesday morning, said they were now all but inevitable.
"The path towards establishing a government in Israel has never been at a greater impasse," he wrote.
"We are going to need a miracle to avert a third election."
Netanyahu also faces a threat to his political career from the corruption allegations.
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit is due to decide by December whether to charge him over a series of accusations he denies.
An indictment might permanently damage Netanyahu's support, whereas a reprieve could give him a new lease of life.


Egypt, UAE resume first Qatar flights since 2017

Updated 18 January 2021

Egypt, UAE resume first Qatar flights since 2017

  • An EgyptAir flight took off from Doha to Cairo, making it the first commercial flight in three and a half years between both countries
  • It was followed shortly after by the arrival of an Air Arabia flight from Sharjah in the UAE

DOHA: The first direct flights since 2017 between Qatar and its former rivals Egypt and the UAE took to the skies on Monday, following the end of a regional crisis.
Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) joined Saudi Arabia and Bahrain in cutting ties with Qatar in June 2017, accusing it of being too close to Iran and of backing Islamic extremists, charges Doha denies.
The quartet agreed to heal the rift at a Gulf summit on January 5 in Saudi Arabia, after a flurry of diplomatic activity by outgoing US President Donald Trump’s administration.
The first commercial flight from Qatar to Egypt in three and a half years, an EgyptAir service to Cairo, took off from windswept Doha airport.
It was followed shortly after by the arrival of an Air Arabia flight from Sharjah in the UAE.
The resumption of flights from Doha to Cairo will simplify travel for the large contingent of Egyptians living in Qatar.
As many as 300,000 Egyptians call Qatar home, according to official statistics, but many were unable to travel home during the crisis.
In May 2020, frustrated Egyptians protested outside the compound housing Egypt’s then-empty embassy.
Following the demonstration, 18 repatriation flights operated via neutral Oman to comply with Cairo’s ban on direct air traffic.
A Qatar Airways plane was due to also make the trip to Cairo later Monday.
Flights between Doha and Saudi Arabia, which has also opened its land border to Qatar, resumed on January 11.
The row complicated regional travel, divided families and raised costs faced by Qatari businesses.
Mustafa Ahmed, 38, an Egyptian technical engineer, said he was “very happy.”
“With direct flights, life will be easier, especially for families and children, avoiding the torment of changing airports and planes and waiting for hours for transit flights,” he told AFP.
Egyptians in Qatar work in a number of sectors including education, health care and engineering.
Thousands of Qatar’s majority-expatriate workforce, however, have lost their jobs as a result of a downturn caused by the coronavirus epidemic.