Israel’s Gantz unable to form government as third election looms

Blue and White leader accuses Benjamin Netanyahu of ruling to serve his personal interests

Benny Gantz, head of Blue and White party, delivers a statement in Tel Aviv, Israel November 20, 2019. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
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Israel’s opposition leader, Benny Gantz, has failed to form a government, increasing the likelihood of a third election in a year to try to break a political deadlock.

The former military chief had a month to form a government after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed.

Mr Gantz told Israeli President Reuven Rivlin on Wednesday that he could not form a governing coalition.

In a televised address, he said he was “willing to make far-reaching concessions” to form a broad-based government uniting his Blue and White party and Mr Netanyahu’s Likud.

But Mr Gantz said he was confronted by “a bloc that insisted on putting the interests of one man before the interests of the country".

He said Mr Netanyahu was taking Israel down "a dangerous path", accusing him of leading the nation for his own personal interests rather than for the good of the country.

The incumbent has been mired in allegations around his private life and is being investigated for corruption and fraud. Mr Netanyahu has called it a political witch hunt.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit is still contemplating whether to charge the incumbent leader with bribery, in the most serious of the three corruption cases against the premier.

Mr Gantz said he “overturned every stone” in his efforts to form a national unity government based on “respect, morals and values", but the 55-seat right-religious bloc led by Mr Netanyahu stood in his way.

Now the government's fate is held by Parliament.

If a majority of Israel’s 120 politicians can support a member of parliament, including Mr Netanyahu or Mr Gantz, they can ask Mr Rivlin to give that person 21 days to try again to form a government.

But that appears to be a long shot, possibly paving the way for another vote early next year.

“Short of one or both of the leaders coming down a little bit further from their tree, or perhaps a game-changing decision from the attorney general, we’re going to third elections,” political strategist Ashley Perry said.

Experts believe that a caretaker government could hurt the country’s economy.

“If you don’t have a government for a long period of time, like about a year, you feel substantially the impact of this on investment and infrastructure in many industries," said Alex Zabezhinsky, chief economist for Meitav Dash Investments.

The political deadlock has frustrated the Trump administration’s attempts to implement its long-delayed plan for peace between Palestine and Israel.