Israel's president Reuven Rivlin will on Sunday begin consultations with heads of the parties elected to the new Knesset, following this week's election which resulted in a political stalemate.
After hearing their recommendations he will task one of the party leaders with forming the next government. Alternatively, if he believes that no leader will have a realistic chance of cobbling together a working coalition, he may summon the leaders of the two largest parties – Benny Gantz, head of the centrist Blue and White and prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu of Likud – to tell them that a national unity coalition is the best option to avoid Israel going to the polls for the third time in a year.
Blue and White ended up as the biggest party with 33 seats, compared to the Likud, which won 31.
Neither Gantz nor Netanyahu will receive the support of a majority 61 Knesset members to form a coalition. The kingmaker will be Avigdor Lieberman, head of the right-wing, secular Yisrael Beiteinu (eight seats), who insists that the only viable option to break the deadlock is a Blue and White-Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu unity government.
He went so far as to tell Gantz and Netanyahu not to waste time calling him if they are not on board.
Even under normal circumstances, coalition building in Israel is an arduous task. After the April elections Netanyahu’s potential partners failed to agree on a Bill for drafting the ultra-Orthodox, prompting Netanyahu to call a snap September election.
This time, the fact that Netanyahu is facing corruption charges with a pre-trial only two weeks away has further complicated the picture. Blue and White say they are open to serving in a unity government with Likud, but not if it is led by Netanyahu if he is indicted.
Netanyahu’s hopes of passing a Bill granting him immunity went out the window with the election result. But he has not acknowledged defeat and is still fighting to win a fifth term as prime minister.
He is keeping all his options open, speaking in favour of a unity government while forming a joint bloc with the right/religious parties to stop Gantz forming a coalition.
Blue and White dismissed Netanyahu’s call for unity as a cynical political stunt. “Since when does a person who loses an election invite the winner to be a partner in his government?” said a senior party official.
Ben Caspit, commentator for the Ma'ariv newspaper, likened post-election Netanyahu to a drunk-driver of a bus.
“The problem is that we are the passengers in this bus. If it crashes, we crash. Binyamin Netanyahu cannot, even for a second, concede the prime minister’s residence on Balfour Street. He has indictments hanging over his head like a sword. He must remain prime minister, at any price. We are his hostages.”
When Netanyahu addressed the Likud faithful on election night activists chanted, “We don’t want unity!” But it looks like the only realistic choice may be a unity coalition or a third election.