Netanyahu fails to form new Israeli government; rival Gantz poised to take up the challenge – The Washington Post, The Washington Post

Netanyahu fails to form new Israeli government; rival Gantz poised to take up the challenge – The Washington Post, The Washington Post

JERUSALEM – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday gave up his struggle to form a governing majority after September’s dead-heat national election, opening the way for his chief rival to try his hand at

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin immediately said he would give former army chief of staff Benny Gantz a chance, making him the first person other than Netanyahu to try forming a government in more than a decade. Gantz will have 28 days to do what Netanyahu could not – entice at least 61 members of the Israeli parliament, or Knesset, to support his bid.

Gantz’s path to power is far from certain. Israel’s complex political system all but ensures that the final outcome is not likely to be clear for weeks and that a third election in less than a year may be required. But the turn of events on Monday were remarkable nonetheless.

“This is new: This broadens the political imagination to include the possibility that someone not named Netanyahu could be the prime minister of the state of Israel, ”said Mordechai Kreminitzer, senior fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute. “But I think Gantz will also find it extremely difficult to shape a coalition.”

Power-sharing talks between Netanyahu’s Likud party and Gantz’s Blue and White party – the two biggest factions in the Knesset – broke down almost immediately after the election. The parties emerged from September elections with a nearly identical number of seats, and neither close to a controlling majority.

The prime minister released a video announcing an end to his efforts, two days before the deadline and on his 70 th birthday, putting the blame squarely on Gantz for the lack of progress.

“I tried everything to get Gantz to the negotiating table to discuss the formation of a broad national unity government, ”Netanyahu said. “I tried everything to prevent another election. But sadly, time after time, he simply refused. ”

Although Gantz’s party won one more parliamentary seat than Likud in the election, Netanyahu had been endorsed by the narrowest of margins – one vote – as the preferred prime minister of Knesset members. Rivlin awarded Netanyahu the first official mandate, giving him four weeks to assemble a majority.

But despite Rivlin’s plea that the two sides form a unity government, neither party was willing to budge on key demands. Netanyahu said that any governing coalition must include his allies among the right-wing and ultrareligious parties. Gantz said that someone other Netanyahu, who is facing likely corruption charges, lead Likud into a unity government.

Negotiators for the two parties met for several sessions without progress. Gantz, after an initial meeting with the prime minister, spurned numerous invitations from Netanyahu to negotiate one-on-one. Gantz insisted his rival was less interested in compromise than in ensuring he would serve first in any power-sharing rotation. Netanyahu, who could be indicted as early as November, was more keen on “immunity” than unity, Gantz said.

If Gantz cannot form a government within the next four weeks, the president could then invite anyone else in the Knesset to try to assemble a majority of 61 seats. If no one succeeds within three weeks, the country could face its third national election of the year.

That prospect probably would make the final 21 – day push to form a government the most fruitful. Likud acknowledged as much, referring to the period as “the real show.”

Analysts say any real possibility of compromise won’t arise until both sides have exhausted their efforts.

“For there to be concessions, there has to be ripeness,” Kreminitzer said. “And to get ripeness, you have to fail some.”

The two sides had tried hashing out a compromise suggested by Rivlin, under which they would share the prime minister’s role on a rotating basis with Gantz effectively assuming power if and when Netanyahu becomes embroiled in the legal system. Netanyahu quickly agreed to the concept but couldn’t bring along Gantz, who may think Netanyahu’s position will only weaken as his legal case continues.

The prime minister’s run at forming a coalition was tumultuous. As his attorneys spent four marathon sessions trying to persuade the attorney general not to charge him with bribery, Netanyahu oversaw the start of the Knesset session, dealt with protests against spiking crime in Arab neighborhoods and the launch Turkish strikes against Kurds in Northern Syria. Netanyahu had built his campaign in part on his close friendship with President Donald Trump, but that asset has been tainted by Trump’s withdrawal of U.S. troops from northern Syria, widely seen here as a betrayal of a worthy Israeli ally.

At one point, perhaps to demonstrate his tight grip on the party, Netanyahu briefly proposed a snap leadership vote within his Likud party. But when one potential rival from within the ranks immediately expressed interest in running against him, he dropped the idea in favor of a vote of confidence at a sparsely attended meeting of the party’s executive committee.

Netanyahu’s return of the mandate may just be part of the complex gamesmanship that goes with coalition-building in a closely divided Israel. The first attempt to form a government may have been destined to fail, many analysts think, and theories abound that Gantz was secretly angling for his rival to get the honors.

“The time for spinning is over, and it is now time for action,” Gantz’s party said in statement after Netanyahu conceded failure.

Ruth Eglash contributed to this report.

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