16:52 GMT08 April 2020
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    Overshadowed by COVID-19, Israel's political stalemate seems to have been put on the back burner. Benny Gantz, who has received a mandate to form a government, will need to make tough decisions including on a potential unity government with Netanyahu, a move that could lead to the split of the Blue and White party.

    Under other circumstances this would have been a week packed with political headlines.

    First, it was a series of consultations by Israel's President Reuven Rivlin with the country's major parties that recommended Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's main rival, the ex-chief of staff Benny Gantz to the post of PM - a major blow to Netanyahu whose Likud gained more than Gantz's Blue and White in the third general polls that took place at the beginning of March.

    Then it was the swearing in ceremony of the Israeli parliament, the Knesset. Usually a grandiose event, the Monday ceremony was a picture of doom and gloom, overshadowed by the ongoing political crisis and the raging coronavirus that's paralysed the country, prompting Netanyahu to introduce a series of measures, including a limitation on the number of people in one space and, as of yesterday, a total lockdown of the country with few exceptions for "essential" institutions and services.

    Finally, it was the mandate given to Gantz to form a government, a challenge considering his previous attempt in October 2019 that ended in a fiasco. Just like before, the former IDF chief of staff will have 28 days to establish a coalition. But that won't be an easy task.

    En Route to a Broad Coalition? Not So Fast

    Although he did collect the 61 signatures needed to get the president's mandate, it doesn't mean that those who backed him initially, will continue to do so. 

    To start off, there are disagreements in his own party. After Gantz toyed with the idea of establishing "a broad government" that would also include the Joint Arab List, an alliance of four Arab parties that very often are critical of Israel, two hawkish members of the Blue and White announced they would not support a coalition in which Arab parties are a part.

    In practical terms what this means is that Gantz will only have 31 votes from his own team members, willing to back him regardless.

    The Joint Arab List received 15 seats in the 120-seat Israeli parliament and has it's own concerns too. United by the desire to oust Netanyahu, they did recommend Gantz for PM but stressed they had no intention of being a part of his future government, although they might support it in opposition.

    To gain their support Gantz will need to introduce a number of concessions including backtracking from US President Donald Trump's "deal of the century" peace plan that presupposed territorial swaps and the extension of Israeli sovereignty over some 30 percent of the Palestinian West Bank - a red line for the Arab parties' alliance.

    Unity as a Solution

    That's why, within the next three weeks, Gantz might realise that he has no other option but to scrap the idea of a broad government and opt for unity with Netanyahu's Likud instead.

    Speaking at a Thursday press conference where he announced new measures aimed at curbing the spread of the deadly virus that has seen more than 600 Israelis infected, Netanyahu urged Gantz to put their differences aside and establish an emergency government.

    Gantz is reportedly mulling over the idea but faces fierce opposition from other leaders in the Blue and White, who are reluctant to join any government with Netanyahu, even if it is for the sake of saving lives. And that means a day when the list splits into two is not that far off.

    As the clock is ticking, Gantz will need to take decisions. If he fails to form a government within 28 days and rejects calls for unity, President Rivlin might decide that an extension of another two weeks will not bring resolution any closer, passing the mandate to another candidate that will attempt to form a coalition.

    That candidate will most likely be Netanyahu. Just like Gantz, he will also have around a month to collect the 61 signatures needed to receive the mandate to be Israel's PM once again but if he fails again, the Knesset will need to dissolve itself, prompting another general vote, most probably in September.

    Tags:
    government, coronavirus, Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, Benny Gantz
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