President Reuven Rivlin announced Wednesday he is tasking Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz with forming the next governing coalition, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday that he failed to do so.
During the official ceremony in which Rivlin handed Gantz the mandate, the president said that "we all have to create the conditions needed to resolve [Israel's political] deadlock."
The president added that "It's important to remember that as long as entire sectors [of Israeli society] are boycotted, as long as there is no compromise to create a partnership between big as well as small parties, a government won't be established.
"I've proposed an outline which aims to pave the path for Likud and Kahol Lavan to establish a unity government. There is no reason to hold a third round of election," Rivlin said.
The president added that if a government is formed, "all [parties] will pay a price, but if it is not formed, Israel's citizens will be the ones to pay the highest price," and called on the public servants not to erode the public trust."
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"I promised I would form a liberal unity government and that is what I intend to do," Gantz said before addressing Netanyahu personally. "We've known each other for many years and I see you as an Israeli patriot. Together with you and the good people in Likud, we have the responsibility to conduct a respectful, ethical conversation for the sake of all those who wish to form a government in Israel."
Shortly after receiving the mandate from Rivlin, the Kahol Lavan leader spoke with Netanyahu and suggested that the two meet. The premier replied he would be heading negotiation talks on behalf of the 55 right-wing bloc he heads, and the two agreed they would meet in the coming days.
Gantz also offered Agudat Yisrael Chairman Yaakov Litzman to hold a meeting, to which Litzman replied in the negative, adding that Likud represents his faction as part of the right-wing bloc.
Labor-Gesher Chairman Amir Peretz and Gantz agreed to meet as soon as possible, the Kahol Lavan leader said, adding that the parties' negotiation teams will meet as well, while Hayamin Hehadash chairwoman Ayelet Shaked told Gantz that her party would "hold talks with Kahol Lavan through the [right-wing] bloc's negotiation team."
Gantz agreed with Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman to meet in the coming days, as well as with Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh and the faction's whip, Ahmad Tibi, who both congratulated on receiving the mandate.
Lieberman's party said it has no alliance with or a commitment to Kahol Lavan or Likud. "Our only commitment is to our voters, and therefore we'll do everything in our power to prevent another round of election and establish a unity government comprised of Yisrael Beiteinu, Likud and Kahol Lavan.
Likud welcomed Rivlin's call to establish a broad national unity government. "The outline proposed by the president is the only way to form a unity government and prevent another election."
Ultra-Orthodox Shas party Shas leader Aryeh Deri wished Gantz success, adding that his party is part of the right-wing bloc and that it had authorized Likud representatives to hold the negotiations with Kahol Lavan on its behalf.
Deri said that a broad unity government according to Rivlin's outline is the only wat to form a stable government that will work to unite the nation and achieve national reconciliation.
At Gantz's request, Kahol Lavan's negotiation team arrived at the President's Residence to present Rivlin with the party's efforts to form a coalition and its determination to establish a broad liberal government that will serve all sections of Israeli society, a statement from the party said.
Following the team's meeting with Rivlin, the president and Gantz spoke in private and Rivlin handed the latter the mandate to form a coalition.
Gantz, a former Israeli army chief of staff, will have 28 days to try to form a coalition. If the Gantz-led coalition talks also fail, any lawmaker backed by a majority of at least 61 Knesset members would be the next one to have a go at forming a coalition.
If no other lawmaker will be tapped by Knesset members within 21 days, or if they are unable to form a government, Israel will find itself heading for a third election within a year.
Likud said in a statement that it was agreed in a meeting between the heads of the right-wing bloc that Likud ministers Yariv Levin and Ze'ev Elkin would continue representing the bloc in all future negotiations with Gantz's Kahol Lavan.
Netanyahu reiterated his call to adopt Rivlin's outline to establish a broad national unity government, saying it is what the country needs.
Netanyahu agreed to Kahol Lavan's request that the negotiations teams of both parties meet Thursday afternoon.
Earlier Wednesday Lieberman accused Netanyahu of talking about a unity government while driving Israel into a third round of elections.
Lieberman told Kan Bet public radio that “Netanyahu has no interest in establishing a government. He wants to drag things out, for personal reasons.”
Likud, Lieberman said, is "already eulogizing Netanyahu." The party's senior members "are on the starting line to primaries," he added.
The Yisrael Beiteinu leader said that while he wants his party to be in the coalition, from his perspective, "it's more important to form a government, even at the cost of Yisrael Beiteinu staying outside it."
When asked if his party would support a minority government headed by Gantz, Lieberman refused to answer, saying the subject is "media spin by Likud."