Gantz officially tasked with forming new government

President Rivlin calls on opposition leader to form government quickly in the face of  the ‘national and international crisis’ due to the coronavirus

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin on Monday assigned the task of forming a new government to Blue and White Party chairman Benny Gantz, setting the wheels in motion for the possible end of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s record run as Israel’s longest serving leader.

“The law gives you, sir, 28 days beginning tomorrow, to form a government,” Rivlin said at a ceremony where he handed Gantz the official papers authorizing him to form a coalition government.

“This is a short amount of time, but given the current circumstances of national and international crisis, even this is too long,” Rivlin said.

Both Gantz and Netanyahu failed to win enough seats in Israel’s March 2 elections to gain a majority in the Knesset, Israel’s 120-seat parliament. It was the third inconclusive trip to the polls for Israelis in less than a year after both leaders previously failed in attempts to form governments, forcing Israelis back to the ballot box.

Although Netanyahu’s Likud Party won 36 seats to Gantz’s 33, the incumbent prime minister could only muster 58 votes in trying to build a coalition with smaller right-wing and religious parties.

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The breakthrough came on the weekend with the surprise announcement by the Joint List, an amalgamation of four largely Arab parties, that it would recommend to Rivlin that he choose Gantz to form a government.

The Arab list won 15 Knesset seats in the March elections, making it the third largest party.

The additional shocker came when Israel Beiteinu leader Avigdor Liberman, Netanyahu’s former chief-of-staff who in the past vehemently rejected sitting in a government supported by Arabs, also announced he would back Gantz.

After months of vitriolic mud-slinging by all parties, Gantz was magnanimous in accepting the monumental mission, calling on the country to pull together.

“I reach out my hand to the heads of all the factions, including Benjamin Netanyahu, and call to put aside the destructive verbal weapons and open hatred,” Gantz tweeted after the ceremony. 

He called on his opponents to join him on the journey “to heal Israeli society. Heal from the coronavirus, and also heal the virus of schism and hatred.”

Gantz previously said he would form a minority government that will likely have only 46 seats, but would set up a government agenda to gain the support of the Arab block that would receive legislative benefits in return for not voting to topple the government.

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However, dissenting voices in his own party and his potential coalition partners who object to a government supported by the Arab sector may torpedo his efforts.

If Gantz fails to form a government within the 28-day period, he can apply for a two-week extension after which Rivlin might turn to Netanyahu if the political situation changes and the Likud leader manages to change minds and gain support.

Another possibility is that Gantz and Netanyahu join together in a unity government, an outcome that Rivlin has said he favors.

If those avenues fail, Israelis will be forced to go back to the polls for yet another unprecedented election that would take place in September.

All party leaders have said repeatedly they would do whatever is necessary to avoid a fourth election, and Rivlin told Gantz that the situation was “an hour of crisis” in which “a fourth round of elections are not possible and the keys to establishing a new Israeli government are now in your hands and in the hands of all the elected officials from all parties.”