After two days of consultations with party leaders, with included a rare endorsement of a prime ministerial candidate by the Arab Joint List, President Reuven Rivlin summoned on Monday a joint meeting of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his rival Benny Gantz. (Who is Benny Gantz? Meet the man who might be Israel's next prime minister)
The two are expected to convene with the president later Monday evening after they both failed to secure a majority of 61 backers to attempt to form a governing coalition.
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Netanyahu has secured 55 recommendations from his own Likud party, ultra-Orthodox parties Shas and United Torah Judaism and right-wing alliance Yamina. Kahol Lavan leader Gantz received 54 recommendations, after he got the expected support of Labor-Gesher's six elected representatives and the Democratic Union's five.
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While the Israeli Arab party announced that it endorses Gantz, that moved was stunted by the decision of Balad – one of the four parties that make up the alliance – not to recommend Gantz to Rivlin as the suitable candidate to form a government.
Also Monday, Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman, who emerged again as the kingmaker of this election, met with Gantz. The two tweeted that they "exchanged opinions and impressions," and that they would "talk again later if necessary."
After his meeting with Gantz on Monday, Lieberman took to Facebook to explain in a post that during their meeting, he “repeated and clarified what I have said since the beginning of the election campaign. For Yisrael Beiteinu, there is only one option on the table, and it is the establishment of a unity government with the three parties: Yisrael Beiteinu, Likud and Kahol Lavan.”
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"The commitments we've made to our voters are rock solid, and we won’t budge at all," he said. "As soon as Benjamin Netanyahu and Likud decided to form a bloc with ultra-Orthodox parties and religious fanatics, we can’t be part of that bloc."
On Gantz, Lieberman argued, "he’s keeping the option of forming a government with the ultra-Orthodox and the Joint List. The ultra-Orthodox parties are not enemies, but political rivals. Joint List members are certainly enemies, wherever they may be."
The Arab list's backing
Before meeting Rivlin on Sunday, Joint List Chairman Ayman Odeh said his party decided to back Gantz because "we want to put an end to the Netanyahu era."
Odeh also wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times opinion piece explaining the decision. "I have argued earlier that if the center-left parties of Israel believe that Arab Palestinian citizens have a place in this country, they must accept that we have a place in its politics [. . .] We have decided to demonstrate that Arab Palestinian citizens can no longer be rejected or ignored. Our decision to recommend Mr. Gantz as the next prime minister without joining his expected national unity coalition government is a clear message that the only future for this country is a shared future, and there is no shared future without the full and equal participation of Arab Palestinian citizens."
However, Balad, one of the factions that comprise the joint Arab slate, said it would not endorse Gantz. In an official letter to justify Balad's choice not to recommend Gantz, Join List faction leader Ahmed Tibi stressed that the Joint List's recommendation applies to only 10 of its 13 elected lawmakers, not including the Balad faction.
"Balad has worked as part of the Joint List to take down Benjamin Netanyahu, and will clearly keep on doing so, but at the same time does not see Gantz as an alternative, when he and his party support the annexation of Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, threaten with a war in Gaza and unwilling to annul the racist Nation-State Law."
Netanyahu commented that “exactly what we’ve been warning of” has happened. “Now, there are two options: Either a minority government backed by those who reject Israel as a Jewish and democratic state and praise terrorists … would be formed, or a broad national unity government,” he said, vowing to “work as much as I can to form a broad national unity government. There’s no other solution.”
Each outfit represented in the Knesset recommended its pick at a potential prime minister in meetings that were broadcast live, according to new regulations that came into force during Israel's previous election in April. Rivlin will announce his choice on Wednesday, after the Central Elections Committee confirms the final results.