JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Monday that he is unable to form a government coalition after trying for nearly four weeks.
He added that he is returning the mandate to form a government to President Reuven Rivlin. The announcement comes on Netanyahu’s 70th birthday.
It will be the first time in more than a decade that someone other than Netanyahu will attempt to form a government.
The director-general of the president’s office, Harel Tubi, will now contact the heads of all the factions in Knesset and inform them that Rivlin plans to transfer the mandate to form the government to Benny Gantz, head of the Blue and White faction, the president’s office said in a statement.
Gantz will now have 28 days to try to form a government coalition. If he fails to form a government, Knesset members have 21 days to advise Rivlin of their support for another lawmaker to form a government, and Rivlin could task a third person with the mandate.
If that fails, Israel will go to a third national election, which would occur in March 2020.
In a video message posted on social media, Netanyahu said that he put “all efforts” into bringing Gantz to the negotiation table and forming a “broad national unity government.” He said that Gantz refused to meet with him or to send his negotiating team “time and time again.”
“The time of spin is over, and it is now time for action,” the Blue and White party said in a statement. “Blue and White is determined to form the liberal unity government, led by Benny Gantz, that the people of Israel voted for a month ago.”
“The time has come for Blue and White,” Gantz tweeted.
Rivlin had attempted to help Netanyahu and Gantz arrive at a national unity government, with a formula that included a rotating premiership, which would have seen Netanyahu take a leave of absence from the office if he is indicted in one of the three corruption cases against him. The leaders could not agree, however, on who would serve first in such a rotation.
Netanyahu also insisted on bringing his right-wing coalition in to the government with him, which was not acceptable either to members of Gantz’s faction or to Avigdor Liberman, head of the Yisrael Beiteinu Party, which has been holding out for a liberal unity government.
Blue and White is expected to require preconditions for joining its government, including support for public transportation on Shabbat and support for revoking legislation that forces businesses to close on Shabbat, Haaretz reported.
The Arab Joint List’s four parties could help Gantz hit the coalition threshold, but they have not pledged to join any ruling majority. Netanyahu called the possibility of a so-called minority government led by Gantz with the Arab parties’ support from outside the coalition “an anti-Zionist act that endangers our security.”
Blue and White earned 33 seats in the September elections to the Netanyahu-led Likud Party’s 32. However, parties representing 55 seats in the Knesset recommended to Rivlin that Netanyahu be tasked to form a government to 53 for Gantz, leading to Netanyahu receiving the mandate. Liberman did not commit his party’s eight seats to either candidate.
Sixty-one seats are required to form a majority ruling government coalition.