The former IDF boss General Benny Gantz – the main rival to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – has been given the chance to form a new coalition government in Israel.
Netanyahu’s Likud party won more seats than Gantz’s Blue and White in the general election. But Gantz was backed by a majority of lawmakers.
The former military chief vowed to form “a national unity government, as broad as possible, within days”. It comes as Israel confronts the Corona-virus outbreak. Much of the country has been brought to a standstill in an effort to contain 250 cases.
More than 50,000 people have been placed in isolation; schools and universities have been closed; and gatherings of more than 10 people have been banned. The opening of Mr Netanyahu’s trial on corruption charges has also been delayed.
The Palestinians have reported 39 cases of Covid-19 – the disease caused by the new virus – in the occupied West Bank.
The election on 2 March was Israel’s third election in less than a year. Neither of the main party leaders was able to command a majority following the last two rounds.
This time, Likud won 36 seats, and allied right-wing and religious parties another 22. But that left Netanyahu three short of a majority in the 120-seat Knesset.
Blue and White meanwhile won 33 seats; the Joint List representing Israel’s Arab minority came third with 15 seats; the centre-left Labour-Gesher-Meretz list won seven; and the nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party also got seven.
Over the weekend, President Reuven Rivlin asked all parties about who they recommended he task with forming a governing coalition.
Sixty-one lawmakers supported Gantz, including those from the Joint List and Yisrael Beitenu, compared to 58 for Netanyahu. One lawmaker chose not to give a recommendation.
Netanyahu had proposed that he lead a “national emergency” government for six months to confront the Covid-19 crisis.
Israeli president Rivlin officially gave the Blue and White leader the mandate.
Noting “the greatness of the challenges facing us”, the president urged Gantz and “all elected officials” to move swiftly to form a government.
“A fourth election is impossible at this time of crisis,” he warned.
General Gantz and commander of the Gaza War will have 28 days to try to form a coalition, after which he may ask for a 14-day extension.
After receiving the mandate, he said: “I will serve the voters of all of the parties and all the citizens of Israel. I will lead the effort to heal the Israeli society of the Corona-virus, as well as from the virus of hatred and division.
It is not yet clear who could form an eventual unity government as the parties that endorsed Gantz have little in common. Gantz called on Netanyahu to agree to a unity deal but the Likud party has rejected the idea.
BBC / ABC Flash Point News 2020.