Opposition leader Benny Gantz will have 28 days to build coalition or risk fresh election
Benjamin Netanyahu has informed Israels president he has been unable to form a coalition government after talks with his political rival and former army chief Benny Gantz broke down.
In a video statement published on Monday evening the day of his 70th birthday Netanyahu said he and his Likud party had worked incessantly to forge a broad national unity government with Gantzs Blue and White party, but ultimately failed.
Netanyahu, Israels longest-serving leader, made the announcement just two days before the deadline to return the mandate to the president, Reuven Rivlin, who in turn intends to task Gantz, the head of the opposition, with the job of putting together a new government.
It would be the first time in over a decade that anyone but Netanyahu would be given the chance to head the Israeli government. But the move does not necessarily end Netanyahus political career, nor his chances of leading the countrys next administration.
Once he is formally asked by the president, Gantz will have 28 days to attempt to forge a coalition, or risk another election being called.
The time of spin is over, and it is now time for action, Gantzs party said in response to the news, adding that it was determined to form the liberal unity government, led by Benny Gantz, that the people of Israel voted for a month ago.
Gantzs chances do not look good and many in Israel predict he will also fail. Netanyahu was awarded the first shot at forming a government as he had marginally more support from lawmakers than Gantz. Neither leader, however, has a clear majority of 61 seats in the 120-seat Knesset and both have sought to stall each others dash for power.
It is possible that if Gantz also fails, another parliamentarian could take the mandate, although they would need support from a majority of lawmakers, a position that currently appears extremely unlikely. If Israelis go to the polls again it would be the third time in a year, after two inconclusive election results pushed the country into a political crisis.
In May Netanyahu failed to cobble together a coalition following Aprils muddied election result. Rather than giving the opposition a chance to forge a government, he instead pushed to dissolve the Knesset, triggering repeat elections and giving himself another chance.
Rivlin has been pressuring the two main parties to put aside their differences and form a unity government as together they would have more than enough seats for a majority.
In his statement Netanyahu said he had 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.
To my regret, time after time he declined. He simply refused.
Gantz ran his election campaign on the promise to topple Netanyahu, making it difficult for the opposition leader to accept a power-sharing deal without losing credibility. Meanwhile, the prime minister has insisted his traditional allies from hardline nationalists to religious parties be included in any unity government, a precondition Gantz has rejected.
The next few weeks are not only crucial for Netanyahus political life, but also possibly his freedom. Israels attorney general is currently deciding whether to indict him in three potential corruption cases.
If he retains the role of prime minister, he will not be required to step down, even if indicted. Netanyahu has denied all allegations.