Israel PM Netanyahu admits he cannot form government, allowing chief rival chance to build coalition
President Rivlin said he will give centrist rival Benny Gantz the chance to form a ruling coalition after Netanyahu failed
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has admitted he has failed in his attempts to form a government, allowing his chief rival the opportunity to form a coalition.
Mr Netanyahu, who has been in office for over a decade, returned the mandate to form a government to President Reuven Rivlin after a month of talks failed.
The premier had hoped to form a “broad national unity” government with his chief rival, former military chief Benny Gantz, who heads up the centrist Blue and White party.
But late on Monday, Mr Netanyahu announced he had come up short after failing to secure a deal with Blue and White or enough seats to secure a 61-seat majority of the Knesset, Israel‘s parliament.
Mr Rivlin said he will give Mr Gantz a chance to form a government, although the former paratrooper does not appear to have enough support either.
If Mr Gantz fails, Israel could hold its third election in less than a year.
In a video statement released late on Monday, Mr Netanyahu said he had worked “unceasingly” over the past few weeks to form a “broad national unity government,” bringing his close allies in the religious parties together with Blue and White.
However, he said he had been thwarted by Mr Gantz.
“I made every effort to bring Benny Gantz to the negotiating table. Every effort to establish a broad national unity government, every effort to prevent another election,” he said. “To my regret, time after time he declined. He simply refused.”
Blue and White were quick to take up the challenge. They have 28 days to form an alternative.
“The time of spin is over, and it is now time for action. Blue and White is determined to form the liberal unity government, led by Benny Gantz, that the people of Israel voted for a month ago,” the party said in a statement.
However, it is unclear how they will be able to bring in enough partners to clear the parliamentary majority.
Blue and White won 33 of the 120-seat Knesset becoming the largest party to emerge from Israel’s September ballot, the second general election in under half a year.
Likud was just behind with 32.
But neither Blue and White nor Likud have enough allies to nudge over the 61-seat threshold. They have also been unable to agree to a power-sharing unity deal together.
Mr Gantz’s Blue and White refuses to join a coalition with the Likud if Mr Netanyahu remains the leader of the party, citing the premier’s likely indictment on corruption charges. The Likud has refused to join any coalition if Mr Netanyahu is not head of the party, leading to the deadlock.
Israel's attorney-general is expected to issue his final decision on whether to indict Netanyahu across three cases in mid-November after a pre-trial hearing was held earlier this month.
The corruption allegations have impacted the electoral success of Mr Netanyahu, 70, who is Israel's longest-serving premier and has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.
The prospects of another election will only anger the electorate even more: Israel’s September election was already the second vote in just six months after Mr Netanyahu also failed to form a coalition government following April elections.
It has meant Israel has been governed by a caretaker government with limited powers for nearly a year.
Israeli analysts said despite mounting public fury over the political stasis, a third election was the most likely outcome.
Elizabeth Tsurkov, a research fellow at the Forum for Regional Thinking, said this was because it would be near impossible for Mr Gantz to form a ruling coalition on his own and a unity government cannot go ahead with Netanyahu as leader.
"There is just no possible way Gantz can form a government [on his own], it would entail the Arab joint list to support a minority government that includes [Avigodr] Lieberman who is a far-right extremist… I just don’t see it happening," she told The Independent.
“We are looking at a third election. Gantz is interested in stretching out the time to ensure the Israeli elections are held after Netanyahu is indicted,” she added.
For the Israeli public, she said there was “a deep sense of dissatisfaction with the entire political class and the inability to come together”.
If Mr Gantz is unable to form a government with 28 days, a majority of legislators could try to endorse a third candidate, something that has never happened before.