Jerusalem: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has failed to form a government following an inconclusive repeat parliamentary election last month, opening the door for his main rival Benny Gantz to get a chance to become the country's next leader.
President Reuven Rivlin said he would give Gantz, the former army chief, the mandate to try to become the prime minister after Netanyahu failed to muster the support of 61 members in a 120 member Knesset (parliament).
Netanyahu, who was first tasked with forming the next government by Rivlin by virtue of support of 55 members compared to Gantz's 54, announced on Monday evening, that he cannot cobble a government together and was returning the mandate.
The Prime Minister made the announcement two days before the end of 28 days deadline given to present a coalition. Netanyahu, 70, broke the news of returning the mandate to Rivlin in a video message published on his official Facebook page.
"Ever since receiving the mandate [to form a government] I have worked relentlessly . to establish a broad national unity government. This is what the people want," the premier said.
However, my efforts to "bring Gantz to the negotiation table . and prevent another election" have failed as the Kahol Lavan (Gantz's Blue and White party) leader "refused time after time".
Gantz, 60, responded to the announcement on Twitter saying, "It's Kahol Lavan time." Kahol Lavan's co-leader, Yair Lapid, a former journalist, responded saying, "Bibi (Netanyahu's nickname) failed once more. It's a serial thing".
"The time for spins is over, now is the time for actions. Kahol Lavan is determined to form a liberal national unity government headed by Benny Gantz, for which the people voted last month," a statement by the party said.
With a fractured mandate expected again in the repeat polls, Rivlin on the day of the polls had made a statement saying that he would explore all possible options to prevent a third poll. Gantz will have 28 days to try to form a coalition.
If the bloc led by him also fails to win the support of at least 61 members, the president will return the mandate to the parliament and any lawmaker backed by a majority number of members in the Knesset would be the next one to have a go at forming a coalition.
If no lawmaker is able to form a government within 21 days after the President returns the mandate to the parliament, Israel will see a third round of polls within a year. The first round of polls were held on April 9 following which Netanyahu could muster the support of only 60 members, failing to form the government by a razor thin margin.
Gantz's Kahol Lavan won 33 seats, followed by Netanyahu's Likud party with 32 in the September 17 repeat polls. Netanyahu, with the backing of right-wing parties, Shas with eight seats, United Torah Judaism, with seven seats and Yamina with seven seats had the backing of 55 members to form the government.
In consultations with Rivlin ahead of nominating Netanyahu, the Arab parties alliance, the Joint List, which won 13 Knesset seats, in a rare move backed Gantz. Three of the Arab lawmakers however pulled back their support to the Kahol Lavan leader which could otherwise have given Gantz support of 57 members, compared to Netanyahu's 55.
Yisrael Beteinu, led by former Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman, won eight seats and has so far backed nobody for the premiership is emerging as the kingmaker in the polls. Netanyahu said that Gantz and his potential coalition partners "are only talking about unity".
"In effect, they're doing the exact opposite, encouraging sectarianism" by refusing to accept a government with ultra-Orthodox parties (Shas and United Torah Judaism)," he added.
The Prime Minister then argued that Gantz has worked in full coordination with Joint List lawmakers, "who glorify terrorism [and] deny Israel's existence," to form "a minority left-wing government".
If such a government comes into being, "I will head to opposition and work with my friends to take it down", Netanyahu stressed. Gantz now intends to hold consultations with all party leaders, including Netanyahu, in an attempt to form a broad unity government.
Rotation of the Prime Minister's position is still an option but Kahol Lavan party has said that Gantz should become the prime minister first, before any candidate of the ruling Likud party, and that no lawmaker with corruption charges against him be considered.
Netanyahu, Israel's longest serving prime minister, is facing potential charges of bribery and fraud and breach of trust in three corruption cases. Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit is expected to announce soon whether charges would be pressed against the Prime Minister following his pre-indictment hearing early this month.
-By Harinder Mishra