JERUSALEM, Israel – Blue and White party chairman Benny Gantz failed to form a new government by Wednesday night’s midnight deadline, inching the country closer to a third election and dashing his dreams of pushing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu out of office.
Now with both Gantz and Netanyahu having tried and failed to muster a 61-seat majority to become prime minister, Israel’s parliament enters a 21-day period where any lawmaker can try to form a majority and become prime minister. If that fails, Israel will be forced into an unprecedented third election in March.
Addressing reporters, Gantz accused Netanyahu of stopping attempts to form a broad unity government.
“He should have come to terms with the fact that the outcome of the elections required him to negotiate directly, with no blocks or barriers,” Gantz said.
“Most of the people chose a liberal unity government headed by Blue and White,” he added. “Most of the people voted to weaken the power of extremists, and most of the people voted to go on a different path from that of Netanyahu in recent years.”
Gantz, a former military chief, was tasked with forming a government last month after Netanyahu failed to form a coalition in the wake of September’s inconclusive elections. Gantz’s Blue and White Party is the largest party in parliament, with 34 seats, ahead of Likud’s 33. The two men could work together to control a majority but after weeks of talks, they could not agree on how to share power, including who would serve as prime minister first and what would happen if Netanyahu is indicted on corruption charges.
Now that Gantz has failed to form a government and the country has entered a fateful 21-day period, both he and Netanyahu will continue their efforts to find coalition partners and to debate the possibility of a unity government.
“These are 21 fateful days in which Israeli democracy will be challenged by the most important test,” Gantz said Wednesday. He promised to find a way to pull Israel “out of the total paralysis that was forced upon us.”
These are also fateful days for Netanyahu, who is expected to be indicted on a series of corruption cases. Israel’s Channel 13 reported that Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has decided to file fraud and breach of trust charges and an announcement could come as soon as Thursday. There was no immediate confirmation from the Justice Ministry.
Netanyahu’s best position to fight the charges is as prime minister, where he could seek immunity from prosecution from parliament. Under Israeli law, public officials must resign if charged with a crime except for the prime minister.
Gantz does not want to partner with Netanyahu while he is facing trial, but has said he has no objections to partnering with Likud if it is led by someone else.
Wednesday’s crisis was triggered by Yisrael Beiteinu party leader Avigdor Lieberman who has emerged as Israel’s political power broker.
Neither Gantz nor Netanyahu could form a majority government without Lieberman’s support. But on Wednesday, Lieberman said he would not endorse either candidate.
Lieberman said that both Netanyahu and Gantz showed a “lack of leadership” during unity government negotiations.
“One refused to accept President Reuven Rivlin’s compromise, the other refused to give up his right-wing, messianic bloc,” he told journalists at the Knesset.
“I left no stone unturned in my attempt to reach a unity government like we promised,” he added. “If we are dragged into elections, it will be because of a lack of leadership.”
Lieberman refuses to join a government with Netanyahu as long as Likud remains allied with the Ultra-orthodox parties, who are not Zionists and refuse to serve in the Israel Defense Forces. Lieberman also will not support a minority government led by Gantz with external backing from the largely anti-Israel Arab Joint List parties.
“We won’t join either a narrow majority government or a minority government…Whatever sort of government it is, it won’t survive,” Lieberman said, slamming what he says an “anti-Zionist coalition” between Arab and ultra-Orthodox parties.