Israel is now on course for its third election — a week after Purim next year

Now that Benny Gantz has failed to form a government, the likeliest course is for another election, the third in less than a year


It won’t be official until December 11 but as Benny Gantz’s mandate to form a coalition ended on Wednesday at midnight, it became increasingly clear that Israel is hurtling down the slope towards a third election in less than a year.

Now that both he and Benjamin Netanyahu have each failed to form a coalition, and Avigdor Lieberman has made it clear he will not join a narrow government led by either candidate, all options seem exhausted.

Mr Lieberman stuck what looks like the final nail in the coffin in a press conference on Wednesday afternoon, when he blamed both men for not overcoming “personal issues” to form a “liberal” national unity government based on Likud, Blue & White and Yisrael Beiteinu.

With Mr Gantz’s mandate over, the last stage of coalition-building begins: a three-week period when any MK who gathers 61 signatures from colleagues can try and form a government.

This has never happened in Israeli political history. Until now, one of the candidates tapped by the president has always ultimately succeeded in forming a government.

While a national unity government with a rotating Netanyahu-Gantz premiership would ostensibly have been the easiest and most stable government to form, there are two main obstacles.

The first is the question of who would go first as prime minister. Mr Netanyahu has refused to resign and let Mr Gantz go first, claiming that changing leadership at this critical junction would be wrong and that he should “mentor” Mr Gantz first.

Likud’s other claim was that while Blue & White received more Knesset seats in the September election, they are part of a larger bloc of 55 MKs from right-wing and religious parties.

Likud’s insistence on bringing their entire bloc into the coalition with them is the second major obstacle.

Mr Gantz said that as leader of the larger party, he must go first. But he would probably be willing to compromise on this if Mr Netanyahu had not been facing criminal charges and Blue & White not committed to their voters that they would not serve under an indicted prime minister.

This is also probably the real reason why Mr Netanyahu is refusing to give way: he plans to fight the charges against him as a sitting prime minister.

For the past couple of weeks, rumours were rife that Mr Lieberman would ultimately join a narrow government if a national unity one proved impossible.

After admitting he had allowed the rumours to exist as a smokescreen to put pressure on Mr Netanyahu and Mr Gantz, on Wednesday he finally ended them.

He said a narrow government would rely either on the members of the Joint List, which he called “a fifth column”, or on the Charedi parties, which he accused of “becoming more anti-Zionist.”

In either case, he said, such a government would be incapable of leading the country and a third election is preferable.

The chances of something changing in the next three weeks are increasingly slim. Even when the attorney general announces indictments against Mr Netanyahu, expected within days, it is unlikely to change the picture because the bloc of 55 supporting the prime minister has pledged to do continue doing so even if he goes on trial.

If no one succeeds in forming a government before the middle of December, Israel’s next election will take place on March 17 — fittingly, a week after Purim.

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