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Israel

Labor party head says he was ‘offered the world’ to join Netanyahu-led coalition

Labor party chairman Amir Peretz said Wednesday that he had been offered “the world” to try to entice his center-left party into a governing coalition with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“They offered me the world and more to enter a coalition with Netanyahu. They offered us every ministry, every role and every budget that we wanted,” Peretz said in an interview with Channel 13, while declining to reveal any specifics about the offers.

“The time has come for the Israeli public to know that election promises have value. We had real enticements to join, but I didn’t agree to hold negotiations,” Peretz said.

In a Wednesday statement on his Facebook page, Peretz further distanced himself from Netanyahu, and seemingly postured for an expected third round of elections.

“If Netanyahu’s insistence on remaining prime minister continues, it will lead us to another unnecessary round of elections,” Peretz said. “We have a historic opportunity to free the State of Israel from right-wing rule that they have held for many years.”

“We promised not to sit with Netanyahu and not to hold negotiations — and we followed through,” he said.

Meanwhile, an unsourced Channel 13 report on Wednesday claimed that Blue and White officials were divided on whether or not to accept a unity agreement. Party officials had privately said that Labor and the left-wing Meretz faction had supported Blue and White entering into a unity agreement to avoid elections, the report claimed.

Members of the Blue White political party Benny Gantz (L), Moshe Yaalon and Yair Lapid hold a press conference at the party headquarters in Tel Aviv, on April 10, 2019. (Flash90)

The report claimed that party No. 4 Gabi Ashkenazi had changed his mind about a unity government several times in recent weeks.

The station reported on Friday that Labor and the Democratic Camp, which includes Meretz, had launched negotiations for a merger in the event of a new election.

Officials in both parties reportedly said that they feel they need to merge due to an increased likelihood that one, or both of the parties, may not cross the electoral threshold in another national vote.

The network said that Peretz appeared reluctant to make such a move at this stage, however. Ahead of September’s election, the Labor chairman called off negotiations for a merger with the Democratic Camp, instead joining forces with Gesher party chairwoman Orly Levy-Abekasis in an effort to lure socioeconomic-minded voters, particularly those on the Israeli right.

The move had little effect with Labor receiving the same six seats in September that it had won in April. Meretz, which added former prime minister Ehud Barak, former deputy army chief of staff Yair Golan and ex-Labor MK Stav Shafir and rebranded itself as the Democratic Camp, earned just one more seat than the four it won in the April vote.

From left to right: Democratic Camp leaders Nitzan Horowitz, Stav Shaffir, and Ehud Barak speak at the party’s headquarters following the release of exit polls on September 17, 2019. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

Both Blue and White leader Benny Gantz and Netanyahu have expressed their support for a unity government including both of their parties, but talks between them have failed to result in a coalition and they have traded blame for the impasse. On Tuesday, a meeting between Gantz and Netanyahu broke down after just 45 minutes.

If no lawmaker manages to get the support of at least 61 members of the 120-strong Knesset by December 11, elections will be called for the third time in less than a year. If those third elections are called, the first possible date for them to be held would be February 25, 2020, according to a Knesset legal official.

Two rounds of elections in April and September failed to produce an elected government — a first in Israeli political history.

Reports in recent days have indicated that Likud is seeking a unity deal that would leave Netanyahu as prime minister for six months, after which Gantz would take over. Blue and White has reportedly expressed worries that Netanyahu will renege, after using the time to gain immunity from criminal charges hanging over his head.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem, Israel, Sunday, December 1, 2019. (Abir Sultan/Pool Photo via AP)

A report Tuesday detailed a far-reaching deal that would see Netanyahu remain prime minister for 3-6 months, give Blue and White a trove of powerful ministries and have both sides back annexation of the West Bank’s Jordan Valley. But a number of sticking points meant the potential pact was still a long shot, according to Channel 13 news.

The unprecedented political gridlock — April’s election was the first in Israel’s history that did not produce a government — has propelled the first serious challenge to Netanyahu from within the party’s ranks since he took over as leader from Ariel Sharon in late 2005, with Likud’s Central Committee is to meet Sunday to begin the process of planning and scheduling party primaries, officials said.

Last month, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced criminal charges — including bribery, fraud and breach of trust — against Netanyahu in three corruption probes.

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