Netanyahu, Gantz to discuss possible Israeli unity government

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Israel's Benny Gantz and Benjamin Netanyahu

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and former army chief Benny Gantz met Monday evening to discuss the possibility of a unity government in Israel, according to a joint statement released by the two leaders.

The talks come after last week’s election that did not produce a clear victor.

Gantz declared victory in the race, calling Thursday for a unity government under his leadership.

Gantz and Netanyahu’s meeting Monday was convened by President Reuven Rivlin with the goal of moving the two leaders toward agreement over the shape of the next Israeli government.

“At the behest of the President, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz mutually discussed ways to advance Israel’s unity and agreed that the respective heads of their negotiating teams would meet tomorrow,” read a joint statement released after the meeting.

Netanyahu’s Likud Party negotiating team will be led by Yariv Levin, while Blue and White’s will be led by Yoram Turbowicz.

Gantz and Netanyahu are then expected back at the President’s residence for a “follow-up meeting” on Wednesday evening, the joint statement said.

Netanyahu had already said he welcomes the idea of a unity government, albeit after declaring he had unified the support of the far-right and the religious parties behind him.

On the face of it, his agreement to launch talks between Likud and Blue and White appears to go back on a promise to his right-religious allies to negotiate as a bloc.

Gantz has said he is open to a unity government, but has also said he could not sit in a government with a prime minister under criminal investigation. Netanyahu faces possible charges of bribery and breach of trust, pending a final pre-indictment hearing in front of the attorney general scheduled for the first week of October. Netanyahu denies the accusations.

Writing to Blue and White members of the Knesset following his meeting with Netanyahu, Gantz sought to reassure supporters he was not about to drop his opposition to sitting with Netanyahu.

“(In the meeting) I made clear that the road to unity is through values and through all that we promised to the public that chose us. The public has chosen change and we have no intention of relinquishing our lead, our principles or our natural partners in this path,” Gantz wrote.

Official results from last week’s election will be published Wednesday, after which President Rivlin has one week to decide who he will ask to try to form the next government.

CNN’s Andrew Carey reported from Jerusalem and Amir Vera wrote from Atlanta.