Opposition leader Benny Gantz has informed President Reuven Rivlin that he has failed to put together a Blue and White-led coalition to form the country's next government, Israeli media has reported.
The retired general reportedly told the president that he would now do everything possible to help create an alternative governing coalition in the coming weeks, and thanked Rivlin for his helped in the unity negotiation talks.
Gantz had been given a deadline of midnight Wednesday to form a coalition to replace the Likud-led government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Neither Netanyahu nor Gantz received enough support from smaller parties to form a majority in Israel's parliament, the Knesset, following the September 17 legislative elections. Those elections were a re-do of a vote held in April, which similarly saw both sides unable to form a governing coalition.
President Rivlin, who had been heading negotiations to form a unity government which would include both Likud and Blue and White, said earlier this week that a third election would be necessary if negotiations failed. On Monday, Rivlin expressed hopes that a new election could be avoided, saying that "this is already too much democracy", and "two elections in a year is enough".
President of Israel Reuven Rivlin has a message to Blue & White Leader Gantz and Likud Leader Netanyahu:— Samuel Sabbah (@Samuel_Sabbah) November 18, 2019
🎙"You can form a Gov with rotation leadership (...) You are representing the sovereign, but never forget the people is sovereign"
- Pres. Rivlin
📹Pres. Rivlin ⤵️ pic.twitter.com/flMEeHb1Ok
MPs now have 21 days to nominate Netanyahu, Gantz or any other member of parliament for the post of the prime minister, with the nomination requiring the backing of 61 Knesset lawmakers. If they fail to do so, a new election will be called.
Avigdor Lieberman, Netanyahu's former defence minister, who was seen by observers as political kingmaker, and both Likud and Blue and White's only chance at forming a governing coalition of their own, had earlier vowed not to support either bloc, particularly if the Blue and White coalition included Arab-Israeli MPs from the Joint List, whom he described as an anti-Israeli "fifth column".
Netanyahu similarly spoke out against any coalition which includes Israel's Arab minority parties, saying Monday that such a coalition would be a "dream come true" for Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas.
Commenting on the negotiations between the Israeli parties, Meir Litvak, an associate professor at the Department of Middle East History at Tel Aviv University, stated that a third election in a row would be a disaster for the country.
"[It is] too early to say who’d win in case of the third elections. Netanyahu probably hopes that people that voted against him will be tired or will be disgusted with politics and will, therefore, stay home and so [Netanyahu's] voters will be more enthusiastic. On the other hand, it could raise some anger against Netanyahu. I am also not sure that Lieberman came out very well from this, he appears to be too cynical in his approach", he said.
On Tuesday, Gantz told The Times of Israel that Blue and White was not ready to "give up basic principles and values" to form a grand alliance with Netanyahu, but promised to "make every effort and turn every stone" to prevent a third election.
In September, after it had become clear that neither major bloc had enough votes for a majority, 60 percent of Israelis expressed their opposition to another round of elections in a poll.
Israel's political deadlock began in April, when, following elections which saw both Likud and Blue and White gain 35 seats, Prime Minister Netanyahu failed to assemble a coalition comprising a parliamentary majority of 61 of the Knesset's 120 seats. The situation did not improve after September's vote. Since then, Netanyahu has served as leader of a caretaker government.