Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is beginning the daunting task of trying to cobble together a coalition government. The country faces political deadlock that emerged from this month’s repeat elections, which had no clear winner.
A unity government with Netanyahu’s main challenger, former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz, appears to be the preferred option. But on Thursday, the two main parties remained far apart, after talks between the two were launched on Tuesday.
Netanyahu has up to six weeks in his attempt. But as he doesn’t have the 61-seat majority needed to establish a government, his odds appear slim.
With final results announced on Wednesday, Likud has the support of just 55 MKs, against 54 for Blue and White.
President Reuven Rivlin tasked Netanyahu on Wednesday with assembling a new government.
Accepting the mandate from Rivlin, Netanyahu said his chances of success were only marginally higher than those of Gantz.
In his remarks, Netanyahu seemed to envision a scenario in which he and Gantz would be able to take another stab at power-sharing once it became clear there was no way out of the current deadlock, save for a third election that few in Israel wanted.
Rivlin, in his remarks, pointedly noted that he is under no obligation to grant his prime minister-designate that two-week extension to establish a governing coalition.
Nor did he commit to turning to Gantz if Netanyahu failed to break the current deadlock. Under law, Rivlin can assign the coalition-building task to any Knesset member he deems likely to succeed, or he can ask the legislature to pick someone.
“It became clear that neither Netanyahu nor Gantz had the 61 seats necessary to form a government,” Rivlin said at the ceremony.
“Netanyahu‘s ability to assemble an administration is higher at the moment,” the president said, noting that 10 Arab MKs in Gantz’s support bloc of 54 did not commit to joining a government.
In his campaign, Gantz pledged not serve in a government with Netanyahu, citing the prime minister’s legal troubles.