TEL AVIV, Israel — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday handed back to the president the mandate to form the next government, after failing to recruit enough lawmakers to join the coalition.

The move comes two days before his deadline.

This is the second time in half a year that Netanyahu has failed to form a government following a general election — leaving the country in a continuing state of political limbo.

President Reuven Rivlin now intends to task Netanyahu’s political opponent, Benny Gantz, with the job, according to a statement released by his spokesman.

The statement noted that the Director-General of the President’s Residence will inform all parliament factions of the president’s intention and they will have three days to convey their position on the matter to him before he transfers the mandate to Gantz.

Gantz, the leader of the centrist Blue and White party, will have 28 days to complete the task.

In a message posted to his social media accounts, Netanyahu said that since he received the mandate he had worked tirelessly “to form a wide national unity government.”

He blamed Gantz for his failure to form a coalition, saying he had rejected his efforts to negotiate with him.

A statement released by Gantz’s party said: “The time of spin is over, and it is now time for action. Blue and White is determined to form the liberal unity government, led by Benny Gantz, that the people of Israel voted for a month ago.”

The September 17 election did not produce a decisive winner.

Netanyahu’s party came out of it with one less seat than Gantz’s but with the backing of one additional lawmaker, making him slightly more likely to be able to form a government — although neither candidate has the required majority of at least 61 parliament members.

Following the April election too, Netanyahu failed to form a government and pushed for the dispersal of the Knesset and subsequently a repeat election.

The country now faces the possibility of a third election if no government can be formed.

Given the stalemate, Rivlin had been pushing Netanyahu and Gantz to form a unity government that would include the former’s Likud party and the latter’s Blue and White party.

There are numerous hurdles in the way of forming such a government.

The Blue and White party has repeatedly said it will not sit in a government led by Netanyahu while he faces an indictment over corruption charges, pending the outcome of a hearing which was held this month.

Further complicating talks, Netanyahu had signed an agreement with the right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties that back him, committing that they will not enter a coalition without each other.

Gantz’s party by contrast had spoken about forming a liberal unity government, which would clash with the interests of the ultra-Orthodox parties.

If Gantz too fails to build a coalition, the president may inform the Speaker of the Knesset that there is no possibility of forming a government, in which case the 120-seat Knesset would have the opportunity to collect the support of 61 members of Knesset for a candidate.

They would have a 21-day deadline to do so and if they do not, the Knesset would have to dissolve again and new elections would be held.


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