Jerusalem: Israel’s president wrapped up his second and final day of crucial talks to find a new prime minister and a way out of political deadlock, after meeting Monday with the smaller parties elected in last week’s vote.
After hearing the recommendations from the remaining party for who should head a government, President Reuven Rivlin must now select the candidate he deems most able to form a stable coalition. He is set to make his decision by Wednesday.
The post-election consultations are usually a formality, but the largely ceremonial president is now playing a key role after an almost tied election result.
“There is one thing that the people are largely united over and that is the desire that there won’t be third elections,” Rivlin said. The smaller parties’ recommendations were split between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White’s Benny Gantz.
That would suggest that, coming out of the talks, Netanyahu holds a small edge over Gantz. Rivlin will likely pick the candidate with the most recommendations who will then have 28 days to try to cobble together a government.
If the first candidate chosen fails within that time, the second is given the opportunity. If he too doesn’t manage, the country could head to a third, unprecedented election.
In Rivlin’s first round of talks on Sunday, the Joint Arab List threw its support behind Gantz, the first time the Arab parties had recommended a candidate since 1992, saying it was doing so in a bid to topple Netanyahu, whose anti-Arab rhetoric has infuriated and offended Arabs in Israel during his decade in power. The backing promised to give Gantz a slight edge in support.
But on Monday, the Joint Arab List said it was withdrawing some of its members’ recommendations for Gantz, trimming his support to below Netanyahu’s.
Last week's repeat election produced no clear winner, with Blue and White receiving 33 seats in Israel’s 120-member parliament and Netanyahu’s Likud garnering 31 seats.
Both sides fell short of the majority needed to form a government and therefore must seek the support of other parties.
Neither party can form a coalition without the eight seats won by firebrand former Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who on Sunday declined to endorse either candidate for prime minister.
Lieberman has pushed Gantz and Netanyahu to agree to sit with him in a broad, secular unity government, and both have agreed in theory but disagree over who should head it.