Israeli politician Benny Gantz conceded on Wednesday that he had been unable to form a governing coalition, paving the way for Israel’s third general election in a year.
Gantz, who jointly leads the Blue and White party alongside former finance minister Yair Lapid, had been trying to cobble together a ruling majority for the past four weeks, but ran out of time and options after right-wing secularist Avigdor Lieberman refused to join.
Israel held an election in April and another in September, but both produced a deadlock in terms of parliamentary arithmetic. Under Israeli law, any parliamentarian now has 21 days to form a government, although few others expect to stand much chance of doing so.
Blue and White, a centre-right party, has been negotiating with incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing Likud party, but Netanyahu has insisted that any coalition include his strictly Orthodox and religious nationalist partners, some of whom are considered extremists.
Lieberman, who is seen as a kingmaker, and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin had both urged Gantz and Netanyahu to form a national unity government with rotating leadership, but the two men have not been able to agree terms, in part due to a personality clash.
Netanyahu was first handed the task of forming a government back in September, but last month conceded defeat, blaming Gantz. This week Gantz blamed Netanyahu and his right-wing bloc, accusing his partners of serving “the interests of one man before that of patients lying in hospital corridors”.
The prime minister is still facing his day in court, after police recommended that he be charged in three corruption cases, but he has refused to resign and insists he has done nothing wrong.
He had hoped to lead any new government with a view to gaining immunity from prosecution, and during negotiations he rebuffed Gantz’s insistence that he step down if the attorney general presses ahead with a trial.
Instead, Netanyahu has taken to social media to issue a series of incendiary messages, warning this week that Gantz wants to form a coalition with Arab Israeli parliamentarians who want to “destroy the country”.
In echoes of his previous anti-Arab comments, the Israeli prime minister described Israeli Arab Members of the Knesset as “terror supporters who receive their instructions from Israel’s enemies”. Critics compared his remarks to the antisemitic canard that Jews living in the diaspora are more loyal to – and take their cues from – Israel.
Netanyahu’s remarks drew a sharp and immediate rebuke from Rivlin, who said: “The characterisation of all Arab elected officials as a ‘threat’ to the existence of the State of Israel and as a ‘fifth column’ must be emphatically denounced.”