But right-wing Likud party chief Netanyahu, facing a looming indictment on corruption allegations he denies, still has no clear path to a fifth term after emerging from the Sept. 17 ballot, the second this year, short of a parliamentary majority.
Accepting the mandate from President Reuven Rivlin at a televised ceremony, a politically weakened Netanyahu said his chances of success were only marginally higher than those of Gantz, a former general who heads the Blue and White party.
In his remarks, Netanyahu seemed to envision a scenario in which he and Gantz would be able to take another stab at power-sharing once it became clear there was no way out of the current deadlock, save for a third election that few in Israel wanted.
“If I don’t succeed, I will return the mandate to you and with the help of God and Israel’s citizens and yourself, Mr President, we will establish a broad national unity government down the line,” he said.
Netanyahu, 69 and Israel’s longest-serving leader, will have 28 days to form a coalition and can ask Rivlin for a two-week extension if necessary. Netanyahu’s failure to clinch victory in a ballot in April led to last week’s election. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin gives Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a file during a nomination ceremony at the President’s residency in Jerusalem September 25, 2019. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
Rivlin, in his remarks, pointedly noted that he is under no obligation to grant his prime minister-designate that two-week extension to establish a governing coalition.
Nor did he commit to turning to Gantz if Netanyahu failed to break the current deadlock. Under law, Rivlin can assign the coalition-building task to any member of parliament he deems likely to succeed, or he can ask the legislature to pick someone.
With final results announced on Wednesday, Likud has the pledged support of 55 legislators in the 120-member parliament, against 54 for Blue and White. The two parties failed to reach a coalition deal in talks launched on Tuesday.
Former Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman, a possible kingmaker, has been keeping his far-right Yisrael Beitenu party on the fence since the Sept. 17 ballot, citing differences with Likud’s ultra-Orthodox religious partners and Blue and White’s left-wing allies.
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