Israel's president tasks Benny Gantz with forming government

COMPILED FROM WIRE SERVICES
ISTANBUL
Published 23.10.2019 20:25
Updated 23.10.2019 20:29
Benny Gantz, leader of the Blue and White party, looks on during his party faction meeting at the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem, Oct. 3, 2019. (Reuters Photo)
Benny Gantz, leader of the Blue and White party, looks on during his party faction meeting at the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem, Oct. 3, 2019. (Reuters Photo)

Israel's President Reuven Rivlin on Wednesday evening tasked former military chief Benny Gantz with forming the next government, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to do so.

At a press conference in Jerusalem, Rivlin called on political parties to make "concessions," while Gantz promised to "try to form a liberal union government."

After inconclusive elections in April and September, Gantz's nomination marked the first time since 2008 that someone other than Netanyahu, 70, has been asked by Israel's president to build a ruling coalition.

Gantz, head of the centrist Blue and White party, will have 28 days to complete the task assigned by President Reuven Rivlin in a televised ceremony.

Rivlin had first given Netanyahu the chance to form a government. But the prime minister, who leads the right-wing Likud party, announced on Monday he was abandoning the effort, opening the way for his strongest rival, Gantz, to be given the opportunity.

In a statement, Netanyahu said he had worked "tirelessly" to establish a unity government with Gantz, but been repeatedly rebuffed.

Gantz could now face an equally difficult task. Gantz, who headed Israel's military from 2011 to 2015, currently has the endorsement of only 54 lawmakers seven short of a parliamentary majority that neither the 60-year-old former general nor Netanyahu could secure in last month's vote and in the ballot in April.

Gantz has vowed to unify the country and restore national institutions after Netanyahu's decade-long rule, which has deepened Israel's religious and political divides and been roiled by corruption allegations.

In contrast to Netanyahu, whose political career spans three decades, the 60-year-old Gantz is a newcomer who only burst onto the scene over the last year. The towering former general's party, Blue and White, is a newly formed centrist coalition that includes the popular secular politician Yair Lapid as well as other former senior military officers and some of Netanyahu's fiercest critics.

At times, Gantz has criticized Netanyahu's handling of security issues, particularly in the Gaza Strip, and has touted his time as army chief, when he oversaw a devastating 2014 war in Gaza. He also has hinted at reviving the peace process with the Palestinians. But Gantz has been vague, apparently wary of alienating potential coalition partners, and focused most of his efforts at portraying himself as a fresh alternative to Netanyahu.

There is no guarantee, however, that Gantz will succeed.

He has expressed willingness to form a partnership with Likud, but not if Netanyahu continues to lead while he faces such serious legal problems. For the time being, Likud has remained steadfastly behind its leader.

Without Likud, Gantz will have a hard time securing a majority in parliament. The opposition to Netanyahu includes a diverse group of parties, ranging from Arab parties to the secular ultranationalist party Yisrael Beitenu, that are unlikely to sit together in partnership.

If Gantz fails during his 28-day window, a majority of lawmakers could try to endorse a third candidate, something that has never happened before. And if that fails, the country would be forced into the unprecedented scenario of a third election in under a year.

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