Israeli opposition leader Benny Gantz received an official mandate on Monday to try to form Israel’s next government, and called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to join him in a unity administration.
In a sharp blow to Netanyahu, who had declared victory in a March 2 election, 61 of parliament’s 120 legislators voiced support for Gantz, leader of the centrist Blue and White party, in consultations with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin on Sunday.
At a televised ceremony, Rivlin gave Gantz 28 days, with the option of a two-week extension, to assemble a ruling coalition.
But Gantz’s backers include opposing forces – the Joint List of Arab parties, and the far-right Yisrael Beiteinu faction led by former defense minister Avigdor Lieberman – that complicate efforts to form a viable government without wider support.
Netanyahu and Lieberman have proposed a six-month “national emergency government” grouping Blue and White and the prime minister’s right-wing Likud party, to confront the coronavirus crisis.
“I give you my word, I will do all in my ability to establish within a few days as broad and patriotic a government as possible,” Gantz said at the nomination ceremony, without going into details.
Israel has held three inconclusive elections in less than a year, and Netanyahu faces a criminal indictment on corruption charges, which he denies.
Gantz, who in failed coalition negotiations with Netanyahu after a national ballot in September insisted on serving first as prime minister in a “rotating” leadership arrangement, called on his rival to agree to a unity deal now.