President Reuven Rivlin on Wednesday tasked Benny Gantz, the Blue and White party leader, with forming Israel’s next government, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced earlier this week that he had failed to do so.
Gantz, like Netanyahu before him, now has 28 days to try and form a government, though the prime minister-designate is seen as being no more likely to manage the task.
Accepting the presidential mandate from Rivlin at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, Gantz promised to build a government of national reconciliation, and said he would invite Netanyahu and his Likud to be part of it. He also reached out to Israel’s ultra-Orthodox community. “An entire nation is waiting to sigh with relief” that the political deadlock is over, he said.
The Blue and White leader pledged he would form a “liberal unity government” and invite all political parties for talks on its goals. His coalition would be open to all except racists and advocates of violence, he said.
With Gantz’s appointment, Netanyahu, for the first time in his 10 years of consecutive rule as prime minister, saw his exclusive control over Israel’s political system wrested from his hands.
“I accept the mandate from the president with great appreciation. With modesty and lowering my head, I accept this responsibility,” said Gantz.
Gantz said he had promised to form “a liberal unity government, and that is what I will do.”
“I will work for all of the people of Israel. A government that Israel is desperate for. We will form a government that will push for peace and will know to deal definitively with every enemy,” said the former IDF chief of staff.
“I will do everything I can to create a government of national healing that will unite the tribes,” Gantz stressed, adding that “we are here to represent everyone, the Haredim, with whom we must sit and talk as brothers, the Arab citizens, our Druze brothers, as everyone else.”
“I turn to Netanyahu tonight and say, I have known you for many years, I wish you to come out clean and pure from the legal challenges you are facing,” Gantz added.
Stressing the need for a unity government, Rivlin, in his remarks before Gantz spoke, reiterated his power-sharing proposal to Gantz and Netanyahu for a legal change to the position of “interim prime minister” that would grant the office holder “full power” in the case the prime minister cannot carry out his duties.
Such a change could theoretically allow Netanyahu to take a leave of absence if he is formally charged in the trio of graft cases against him, enabling Gantz to avoid serving in a government with a prime minister who is under indictment.
Rivlin told Gantz: “It is possible to form a government. There is no justification for forcing another election cycle, the third, on the Israeli public. If no government is formed, the Israeli public are the ones who will pay the price.”
In a possible reference to Gantz’s previous promise not to sit in a government with Netanyahu or the ultra-Orthodox parties, Rivlin said, “As long as the boycotts and delegitimization of groups in Israeli society, as long as there is no real will to come to compromise and agreement, there will not be a government.
Netanyahu was initially tasked by Rivlin with trying to form a government based on the strength of his pact with right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties to negotiate as a bloc of 55 MKs of the Knesset’s 120 lawmakers after September’s inconclusive elections (Likud: 32; Shas: 9; United Torah Judaism: 7 and Yamina: 7).
Gantz heads a bloc of 54 MKs from the center, left and Arab parties (Blue and White: 33; Labor-Gesher: 6; Democratic Camp: 5; and 10 out of 13 MKs from the mainly Arab Joint List).
But on Monday the prime minister had informed Rivlin that he had been unable to do so, clearing the path for Gantz to make an attempt.
If Gantz fails to cobble together a coalition during his 28-day window, which ends November 20, a majority of lawmakers could try to endorse any Knesset member — including Netanyahu and Gantz — as prime minister. A leader has never before been elected during that time period in Israel. If that fails, the country would be forced into the unprecedented scenario of a third election in under a year.
Immediately before appearing with Gantz, the president’s office released details and dates of the processes set to take place in the coming weeks
“If MK Gantz was unable to form a government or informs the president that he is unable to form a government or if a Knesset vote confidence in his government was unsuccessful, a majority of Members of Knesset are entitled to submit a written request to the president to give the role of forming a government to a specific MK, who agrees to it in writing, within 21 days,” the President’s Office said, quoting from Israel’s Basic Law.
The president would then have two days during which he “must give the role to the MK stated in the request,” who in turn would have 14 days to try and form a government.
“If no request is submitted by a majority of members of Knesset, or if the MK has not formed a government within the timeframe, or if the MK informs the president that s/he is unable to form a government – the president must immediately inform the Speaker of the Knesset,” the statement continued. “Once the president has informed the Speaker of the Knesset, they will view this as if the Knesset has decided to disperse itself before the end of its term, and elections will be held on the last Tuesday before the expiration of 90 days from the day the president was informed.”
According to the President’s Office, Gantz will have until November 20 to form a government and if he cannot, MKs will have until December 11 to submit a request for a specific MK to do so.
The Blue and White party earlier on Wednesday invited representatives of Likud to a meeting on Thursday aimed at building a unity government led by Gantz.
In a vague response, the Likud said that Netanyahu had responded to the request and that he “reiterated his call to adopt the president’s outline for establishing a broad national unity government, which is the government needed for Israel at this time.” Netanyahu was reported to have agreed for the two negotiating teams to meet, while insisting his negotiators would represent the entire right-wing and religious bloc led by Likud — a negotiation position previously rejected by Blue and White.
Yisrael Beytenu’s Avigdor Liberman, in the kingmaker position following the inconclusive September 17 elections, has said it will continue with its policy of not endorsing anyone for prime minister, while Netanyahu’s allies have reiterated their support for the premier.
Liberman is not in either bloc and has called for a secular unity government comprising Likud, Blue and White and his own party. But Netanyahu has refused to abandon his traditional ultra-Orthodox partners Shas and United Torah Judaism. And Gantz had until Wednesday refused to partner with Netanyahu so long as he faces possible indictment in three corruption cases.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.