Israel’s president will give the former military commander Benny Gantz the first opportunity to form a governing coalition, presenting a serious challenge to caretaker prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s claim to the premiership.
Mr Gantz, who has faced off against Mr Netanyahu in three elections since April 2019, appears to have brought together an unlikely grouping of rival politicians who have set aside deep ideological divisions to try to topple the veteran Mr Netanyahu.
The Joint List of Arab Parties has thrown their support behind Mr Gantz, who during the election campaign bragged about bombing the Gaza Strip. Avigdor Lieberman, a secular rightwinger, and nearly all the members of the Labour and leftwing parties also agreed to support Mr Gantz.
Together, they have told President Reuven Rivlin that they have 61 votes in the 120-seat Knesset, against the 58 that Mr Netanyahu can count on from his coalition. This is made up of his Likud party, two deeply religious political parties and a rightwing party that represents the settlers who live in the occupied West Bank.
Mr Gantz will now have about a month to formally unite the unprecedented coalition. Yet Arab politicians have never served in any Israeli government while Mr Lieberman champions reducing Israel’s Arab population via land swaps.
There is no guarantee that Mr Gantz will succeed — both he and Mr Netanyahu have twice failed at the task of forming a government — and the coalition he will try to build is united in not much else more than a desire to topple Mr Netanyahu, according to Gideon Rahat, a professor at Hebrew University. “Gantz has an absolute majority but it is an anti-Netanyahu majority. They are not pro-Gantz under all conditions. Netanyahu has only 58 seats, but they are all strongly behind him,” he said.
On Sunday, Mr Netanyahu’s corruption trial, which was scheduled to begin on Tuesday, was postponed because of the coronavirus crisis. The three judges who would have overseen proceedings have decided to delay the hearings until May.
Mr Netanyahu has suggested a unity government with Mr Gantz’s Blue and White Party in order to have a fully functioning government to counter the social and economic impact of the coronavirus. But Mr Gantz has shown little interest in that government, especially since it would require Mr Netanyahu to have first shot at a rotating premiership.