Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz has until midnight Wednesday to cobble together a coalition, but unless a surprise breakthrough is made in the less than 12 hours that remain, the leader of the centrist alliance will be forced to return the mandate to President Reuven Rivlin.
At that point, a final 21-day period — one that the country has never undergone — is the last chance to stave off an unprecedented third election in under a year.
During this period, any Knesset member — including Gantz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — will be eligible to collect the signatures of at least 61 of the 120 MKs recommending that he or she form a government.
If no lawmaker succeeds in doing so, new elections will be called on the first Tuesday 90 days later.
If an MK does manage to garner the support of an absolute majority of Knesset members, he or she will be given 14 days to try and form a coalition with the ostensible support of the same group that granted them the mandate to make the attempt. But if not enough of those MKs are willing to stick with their recommended candidate, and the nominee fails to build a government, then elections will be called, with the date likely being some time in March 2020.
That process was avoided last May when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was tasked with forming a government after the elections in April, used the final hours of his mandate to dissolve the Knesset, depriving Gantz and potentially other MKs of the opportunity to try where he had failed.
After his showing in the September election was even less convincing and he was unable to form a government for the second consecutive time, the Likud leader was left with no choice but to allow Gantz to have a go. However, as Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman’s press conference Wednesday indicated, the Blue and White chairman also seems destined to fail.
Theoretically, however, Gantz still has one Hail Mary option in his back pocket that would, at the very least, delay the 21-day stage where the opportunity to form the government is opened up to his 119 Knesset colleagues.
The Blue and White leader could inform Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein by the midnight deadline that he has succeeded in forming a government, regardless of whether or not such a coalition exists.
Edelstein would then schedule a swearing-in ceremony for the new cabinet one week later, buying Gantz extra time to get his ducks in a row before he is forced to show his cards.
If during the swearing-in confirmation vote the Blue and White chairman manages to get a simple majority of hands raised in his favor, Israel for the first time in over a decade would have a prime minister not named Benjamin Netanyahu.
But of course, those are a whole lot of “ifs.”
Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.