Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave up his effort to form a new government on Monday after failing to secure a majority coalition, creating an opportunity for centrist rival Benny Gantz to replace Israel’s longest-serving prime minister.
It’s a step that could push the country into new political uncertainty.
Netanyahu, who heads the right-wing Likud party, said he had been unable to form a government following an election in September, and was returning the mandate back to Israel’s president, Reuven Rivlin.
Netanyahu fell short of securing a 61-seat parliamentary majority. But Rivlin gave Netanyahu the first opportunity to form a government because he had more support — 55 seats — than any other candidate.
The president said he now intends to task Gantz with the job of putting together a new government.
“In the past weeks, I made every effort to bring Benny Gantz to the negotiating table, every effort to establish a broad national government, every effort to avoid another election,” Netanyahu said.
Gantz also has no clear path to a majority, and should he come up short, it would almost certainly lead to another general election — Israel’s third since April.
Gantz’s Blue and White party said in a statement it was “determined to form a liberal unity government.”
Netanyahu, who has been in power for the past decade and 13 years in total, has seen his political strength wane as he faces a looming indictment on corruption allegations that he denies.
Gantz, a former military chief, has pledged not to serve in a government under a premier facing criminal charges.
Likud placed second in the September ballot with 32 seats in the 120-member parliament, behind 33 for Blue and White.