Israeli President Reuven Rivlin speaks during a consulting meeting with members of the Likud party, to decide who to task with trying to form a new government, in Jerusalem on September 22, 2019. Picture: AFP/MENAHEM KAHANA
ISRAEL-POLITICS-GOVERNMENT Israeli President Reuven Rivlin speaks during a consulting meeting with members of the Likud party, to decide who to task with trying to form a new government, in Jerusalem on September 22, 2019. Picture: AFP/MENAHEM KAHANA

Jerusalem — Crucial discussions are taking place in Israel on who should try to form the next government as last week’s deadlocked election threatened Benjamin Netanyahu’s long reign as prime minister.

President Reuven Rivlin is holding meetings with all the political parties voted into the latest parliament, to hear their recommendations on who should be the premier.

It was far from certain that whoever gets the task will succeed in cobbling together a coalition, and there have been repeated calls for a unity government to overcome the impasse.

The consultations, which began on Sunday and are scheduled to continue on Monday, are being streamed live by Rivlin’s office.

Former military chief Benny Gantz’s centrist Blue and White alliance won 33 seats out of parliament’s 120, two more than Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party. The other two key parties are the Arab Joint List alliance, which won 13 seats, and former defence minister Avigdor Lieberman’s nationalist Yisrael Beitenu, which won eight.

Israel’s Arab parties have traditionally refrained from endorsing anyone as prime minister, but they have not ruled out backing Gantz this time as part of efforts to oust Netanyahu.

Lieberman could play a kingmaker role after his campaign to “make Israel normal again” resonated with the Israeli public. The slogan is a reference to what he sees as the excessive influence on the country’s politics of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties, which were a key part of Netanyahu’s previous coalition.

Lieberman, like many Israelis, says their influence has allowed the ultra-Orthodox community to impose aspects of Jewish law on secular society.

Rivlin is not required to choose the politician who receives the most recommendations but the one he believes has the best chance of forming a government. There has been speculation that alternatively he could meet with Netanyahu and Gantz and ask them to explore options for forming a unity government.

Faced with disappointing results, Netanyahu last week acknowledged he was unable to form the right-wing coalition that he had hoped for, and called on Gantz to join him in a unity government.

But Gantz, who has also called for a unity government, made his position clear — he must be prime minister under any such arrangement, because his party has the most seats.

The standoff has even raised the possibility of what many see as the unthinkable; a third election within a year, after April polls also ended inconclusively.

AFP