Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been tasked with forming the country's new government, the president's office stated. But neither he nor his opponent Gantz has an easy way to form a parliamentary majority.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin tapped Benjamin Netanyahu to form a new government following elections that left Israel in a political impasse.
"I have decided to give you, sir, the opportunity to assemble a government," Rivlin said to Netanyahu at a nomination ceremony.
The president's decision came after efforts to form a unity government of Netanyahu's Likud party and the Blue and White party under Benny Gantz failed.
The president is constitutionally responsible for nominating a prime minister after national elections.
In a new count of lawmakers' intentions, Likud has the pledged support of 55 legislators in the 120-member parliament, against 54 for Gantz's centrist Blue and White Party. Netanyahu now has 28 days to form a government and can request a two-week extension. Should he fail to get a majority on his side, Gantz would likely be tasked with attempting to cobble together a coalition.
Last week's vote marked the first time Israel has held two votes in one year. The ballot was called after Netanyahu's right-wing Likud failed to win enough votes to form a coalition following the election in April.
Israeli media have reported that the Blue and White party won 33 out of 120 parliamentary seats; Likud has 31.
Unity government or a rotation agreement?
After Rivlin's announcement, Netanyahu called for the formation of a unity government, adding that "national reconciliation" was needed in light of threats from Iran and the unveiling of US President Donald Trump's "plan of the century" for peace in the Middle East.
Gantz, however, said he would not join a government led by a prime minister facing probable indictment on corruption allegations, pending a court hearing set for early October.
"Blue and White led by me will not agree to sit in a government with a leader against whom stands a severe indictment," Gantz said in a statement.
The idea of a "rotation agreement" has been floated, but the two main parties have disagreed over who would lead it first.
Blue and White officials say Netanyahu must deal with his legal issues first and allow Gantz to form the government, at least initially.
Avoiding third election in a year
Neither Netanyahu nor Gantz has an easy way to gain supporters to form a parliamentary majority.
Former Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, a possible kingmaker, has been keeping his far-right Yisrael Beitenu party on the fence since the September 17 election, due to differences with Likud's ultra-Orthodox religious partners and Blue and White's left-wing allies.
President Rivlin said he wants to do all he can to avoid a third election within a year after April's inconclusive polls.
"While the elections highlighted the divisions within Israeli society – Jewish and Arab, religious and secular – it is now time to work together on building a shared vision for our common future," Rivlin said at a Wednesday reception for foreign diplomats marking the Jewish New Year.
"I therefore believe that the right path for the state of Israel today is to build as broad a governing coalition as possible," the president added.