Benny Gantz, former chief of the Israeli army and leader of the centrist Blue and White party, received a major boost on March 15, Sunday, with Israeli president Reuven Rivlin offering him the first chance to form a majority coalition government in the country following the March 2 general elections – the 3rd in less than a year. Gantz is the main political rival of caretaker prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu of the ultra-right wing Likud party.
Gantz received letters of support and recommendation from 61 members of the 120-seat Israeli parliament, Knesset, while Netanyahu was backed by 58 members. One member refused to support and recommend either one for the prime ministership.
The Israeli president’s office in a statement on Sunday said, “tomorrow, around midday, the president will assign the task of forming the government to head of Blue and White party Benny Gantz.”
The president had earlier held consultations with all the political parties that have elected members in the new Israeli Knesset after the March elections. In a significant development, the Joint list made up of the Arab parties that represent the substantial 25% Arab minority population in Israel, decided to recommend Gantz’s name during these consultations. Notably, the ultra-nationalist right-wing party Yisrael Beiteinu also backed Gantz. The Joint list parties and Yisrael Beiteinu lie at opposite ends of the Israeli political spectrum. Two of the three left-wing parties, Labour and Meretz also supported Gantz’s name for prime minister, with the third, the Gesher party, deciding to not endorse anyone.
It also remains to be seen whether Gantz is able to hold on to the wafer thin majority he has managed to acquire during a vote of confidence for his government in the Knesset. Joint list leader Ayman Odeh has already said that the Joint list will only extend support to Gantz as prime minister, and will not support a unity government made up of both Gantz and Netanyahu and their respective parties – a prospect that seemed likely until a few days earlier and one which the Israeli president had also suggested to both Netanyahu and Gantz during his Sunday evening talks with the two leaders together to resolve the ongoing political crisis in the country.