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No breakthrough as Gantz meets Netanyahu for Israeli coalition talks

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FILE: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Benny Gantz (R),  leader of the Blue and White political alliance
FILE: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Benny Gantz (R), leader of the Blue and White political alliance -
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JACK GUEZ, Oded Balilty / AFP
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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.

While no breakthrough was reported, it was their first round of direct talks since president Reuven Rivlin on Wednesday tasked Gantz with trying to form a government.

The former Israeli military chief of staff has been given 28 days to piece together a working majority --the first time since 2008 that someone other than Netanyahu, 70, has been asked by Israel's president to build a ruling coalition.

Rivlin gave Netanyahu the chance to form a government first. But the prime minister, who leads the right-wing Likud party, abandoned his efforts last week, opening the way for Gantz, his strongest rival.

Another meeting looms

A joint statement from Netanyahu's Likud and Gantz's Blue and White alliance after Sunday's meeting said:

"The two discussed the structure of political options available."

"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".

Continued disagreements

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.

If Gantz is unable to find a path through, Israel could be on track for an unprecedented third election in the space of a year.

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