As Netanyahu and Gantz fail to reach a deal, Israel inches its way towards a fourth vote

The two leaders fail to agree before last night’s deadline. Israel’s President Rivlin has given the Knesset 21 days to pick a new candidate for prime minister. After that an election is likely with the polls favouring Netanyahu thanks to his handling of the coronavirus outbreak.

Jerusalem (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Israel’s political deadlock continues. After three general elections in less than a year, the latest on 2 March, no one has been able to form a government.

Incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his main rival, Benny Gantz, missed the midnight deadline set by Israeli President Reuven Rivlin last month to form a unity government.

The two leaders said that they plan to continue negotiations and reach a last-minute deal; however, another election looms large on the horizon.

Faced with the stalemate, it is now up to the Israeli Parliament, the Knesset, to pick a candidate who will have 21 days to find a majority of 61 seats out of 120 in total, and form a new government.

This is a very difficult task that has proved unattainable so far, even though the two main rivals continue to look for a hitherto improbable agreement to set up an emergency government.

President Rivlin gave the Knesset 21 days to select a candidate to form a government. If lawmakers fail to do so, they will inevitably face a fourth election at a critical time for the country as it tackles the coronavirus outbreak and Netanyahu’s corruption trial.

The trial’s first hearing was scheduled for 17 March, but was postponed for two months due to the ongoing global health emergency.

Earlier Thursday Netanyahu and Gantz released a joint statement saying that they would continue negotiations to form a government. Talks can continue until the Knesset is formally dissolved.

The stalemate seems to have weakened Gantz, who until last month appeared to have the right number, 61, for a possible majority.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, he decided to form a unity government with Netanyahu with the two alternate as prime minister.

This decision has instead strengthened Netanyahu. According to a recent survey, 64 per cent of Israelis are satisfied with his handling of the health crisis caused by the coronavirus, which has so far infected 12,500 people with 130 deaths.

If an election were held now, his Likud party would win 40 seats against 19 for Gantz’s Blue and White alliance.