In a hard blow for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s bid for reelection, his main rival Benny Gantz was tasked Sunday by Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin to form a new government, after the leader from the Blue and White party secured a 61-seat majority.
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“At the end of the consultations, 61 Members of Knesset had recommended... Benny Gantz, as opposed to 58 Members of Knesset who had recommended the current prime minister and head of Likud, MK Benjamin Netanyahu,” the President’s statement said.
Rivlin decided to give Gantz the first opportunity to form a new government after consulting with leaders of all of the parties elected to parliament.
Although the March 2 Elections gave Netanyahu 58 seats - 36 from his far-right party Likud and the rest from ultra-national parties -, the incumbent premier was short three seats form a majority in the 120 seat Knesset with key parties rejecting any possible support for Netanyahu.
On Sunday, Arab Joint Lis (15 seats), now the third-biggest party in the Israeli parliament after their record win, announced their support for Netanyahu’s rival. Joint List head Ayman Odeh said its voters had stood for "an emphatic 'no' to a right-wing government and Benjamin Netanyahu."
His coalition would not join a government led by Gantz, but could potentially provide it enough votes to govern. In the same manner, Labor-Gesher-Meretz (seven seats) endorsed Gantz.
But it finally came down to kingmaker, Avigdor Lieberman of ultranationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party to announce its seven seats will go to Gantz’s 33 seats from Blue and White. Both former Ministers of Defense share one essential goal: forcing Prime Minister Netanyahu out of office.
Once a close ally of Netanyahu’s Likud, the right-wing Yisrael Beytenu has refused to join a coalition led by Netanyahu after the previous two rounds of elections due to conflicts with the other ultranationalist and religious parties that back Netanyahu.
While Liberman’s decision to team up with the Arab parties also surprised many as he has in the past labeled Arab political leaders in Israel as “terrorist” sympathizers.