New Israeli elections looming as another effort for a government to be formed fails

The country has been trapped in a political deadlock since the first general election this year, held in April

Photo: AP Blue and White Party leader Benny Gantz arrives for a press conference in Tel Aviv on Nov. 20, 2019.

Israel is set to continue without a government and may be heading to new, third elections in just 12 months after Benny Gantz, rival of longtime Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said Wednesday that he missed a deadline to form a government. Netanyahu, who is facing the possibility of imminent indictment on corruption charges, also failed to form a coalition following the hotly contested election in September.

"In the past 28 days no stone was left unturned while we tried to form a government that would bring Israel a leadership of dignity, morals and values, a leadership that has been forgotten," Gantz said, according to Haaretz.

"Most of the people chose a liberal unity government headed by Blue and White," he added, according to The Associated Press. "Most of the people voted to weaken the power of extremists, and most of the people voted to go on a different path from that of Netanyahu in recent years."

Gantz's announcement that he could not meet the deadline set by President Reuven Rivlin, however, doesn't automatically trigger new elections. Rather, for the first time in the country's history, Israel now enters a 21-day period where any of the 120 members of Knesset who can muster a majority of 61 signatures can form a government and be Prime Minister. If no other lawmakers are successful, it could usher in a third and unprecedented election this year, which Netanyahu has described as "institutional insanity."

In the last elections held in September Gantz's centrist Blue and White Alliance won 33 seats in the Knesset, while Netanyahu's conservative Likud party got 32. But Gantz and Netanyahu were unable to broker a power-sharing agreement, which could have resulted switching off as prime minister. One group that wielded considerable power in the negotiations was Avigdor Lieberman's secular nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party. He has said he favours a unity government with the two largest parties, and wouldn't throw his group's weight behind a more narrow coalition. Yet, Liberman refused to back either Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or Gantz in a minority government, leaving both without the seats necessary to form a coalition.

Lieberman was quoted by the BBC as saying the problem with Gantz's attempt to form a coalition was that he 'was not prepared to accept the president's plan' for a national unity government, while Netanyahu 'was not prepared to separate from his ultra-Orthodox messianic bloc.' It's worth noting that Lieberman has also signaled that he was not willing to join a government with Arab parties, who are plausible allies for Gantz.

Overshadowing all the political jockeying, Netanyahu is being investigated and could face indictment for bribery and other charges. He's accused of accepting gifts from wealthy businessmen and allegedly conspiring with media moguls to trade favors in exchange for positive coverage. He has denied wrongdoing.

Gantz had refused to form a unity government with the threat of indictment looming over Netanyahu, the AP reported, but had expressed a willingness to work with Likud if someone else took over.

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