Eight months and counting, Israel’s election deadlock

Israel is headed for a third general election in a year after Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his centrist challenger Benny Gantz both proved unable to form a government.
Wednesday 11/12/2019
In this Sept. 19, 2019 file photo, Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz, left, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attend a memorial service for former President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem. (AP)
In this Sept. 19, 2019 file photo, Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz, left, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attend a memorial service for former President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem. (AP)

Israel is headed for a third general election in a year after Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his centrist challenger Benny Gantz both proved unable to form a government.

Here is a recap of the eight-month saga.

– April impasse –

At April 9 polls, Netanyahu is hoping to extend his 13 years as prime minister, despite corruption allegations.

His main challenger is ex-military chief Gantz.

Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party and Gantz’s centrist Blue and White alliance both win 35 seats.

Parliament chooses Netanyahu, who has support from smaller right-wing parties, to take first turn at trying to form a majority government.

But after weeks of political bargaining, he is unable to command a majority in the 120-seat parliament, blocked by ex-defence minister Avigdor Lieberman who refuses to budge on a demand for ultra-Orthodox Jews to be required to perform military service.

The deadline expires and parliament agrees to hold a new election.

– September second round –

After voting ends on September 17, exit surveys show a neck-and-neck race between the parties of Netanyahu and Gantz.

Lieberman calls for a unity government between the two and his own nationalist Yisrael Beitenu.

Netanyahu says he is prepared for such a coalition but warns against “a dangerous anti-Zionist government,” a reference to the inclusion of Arab parties.

In a surprise bid on September 19, he proposes a unity government to Gantz, who replies he would have to be the prime minister.

– Deadlock confirmed –

In a dramatic first, the mainly Arab Joint List — on track to become the third-largest bloc in parliament — says on September 22 it will endorse Gantz, but only to force out Netanyahu.

Complete official results released on September 25 confirm a deadlock, putting Gantz’s party at 33 seats against Likud’s 32.

Even with their respective allies, neither can get the 61 seats they need for a majority.

– Netanyahu fails –

On September 25, President Reuven Rivlin tasks Netanyahu with forming a government within 28 days.

Gantz refuses to join Netanyahu, citing his potential indictment on corruption charges.

On October 21, Netanyahu announces he has failed. Rivlin hands the task to Gantz.

– Gantz gives up –

On November 8, Netanyahu appoints as defence minister Naftali Bennett and says his New Right party will join Likud.

This gives Netanyahu’s party 35 seats — two ahead of Gantz’s Blue and White.

On November 20, Gantz informs Rivlin hours before his deadline is up that he too has been unable to form a government.

The president, determined to avoid a third election, hands the task to parliament with a three-week deadline.

While it could choose any member of parliament to form a government, Netanyahu and Gantz remain the only realistic contenders.

– Netanyahu charged –

On November 21, the attorney general charges Netanyahu with bribery, fraud and breach of trust.

He rejects the allegations, saying it is an attempt to remove him from government.

– Third round looms –

On December 11, ahead of parliament’s midnight deadline, lawmakers start voting on a bill that would call a new election on March 2.

(AFP)