Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on rival Benny Gantz to return to the negotiating table and hammer out a unity government after Gantz on Wednesday evening announced he had failed to form a governing coalition.
Gantz had been tapped by the president to form a government after Netanyahu failed at the task last month. But like Netanyahu, Gantz was unable to muster the support of a majority in the 120-seat parliament.
In his speech announcing the failure on Wednesday evening, Gantz blamed Netanyahu and his right-wing allies for thwarting the negotiations.
“I asked the prime minister, who lost the election, to conduct direct negotiations, but I was met with insults, slander and childish videos,” he said in the televised speech.
“The people chose me and my partners in Blue and White to lead Israel, and nobody has the right to thwart the people’s choice,” he added.
He accused Netanyahu’s right-wing Haredi bloc of 55 MKs of “only looking out for a single person’s interests,” a reference to Netanyahu, who is facing graft charges and is thought to be seeking parliamentary support for immunity.
In a statement addressed to Gantz, Netanyahu told his rival that “I won’t address your failure tonight, nor all the baseless things you said about me tonight,” before proceeding to address those things.
The prime minister denied that Gantz had failed because of Netanyahu’s refusal to negotiate without his bloc, noting efforts by Blue and White to woo ultra-Orthodox parties away.
He then called on Gantz to join him in a unity government “without preconditions.”
“One thing you said was correct, that Israel needs a unity government. Everyone can see the situation with Iran, and therefore, for Israel’s security and to carry out the will of the people, I’m willing this very night, without preconditions, to enter negotiations with you to form a unity government.”
Netanyahu also repeated his claim that Blue and White had sought to form a minority government with support from the Arab-led Joint List, describing the party as “terror supporters who get their orders from Israel’s enemies.”
Netanyahu has been criticized in recent days for upping his rhetoric against the party, which has been decried as a form of incitement. Earlier in the day, the prime minister himself chided Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman for comments against Arabs and the ultra-Orthodox.
With Gantz’s failure, Israel now enters, for the first time in its history, a final 21-day period in which any MK who can obtain the signatures of 60 fellow lawmakers can form a government.
Netanyahu’s call for talks comes after Gantz’s own assurances earlier Wednesday that he would also continue to seek to piece together a government during the 21 days in order to avoid sending the country to an unprecedented third election within the span of a single year.