Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been nominated to form a new government, the country’s president, Reuven Rivlin, announced Wednesday.
“The meeting between Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz has concluded. In a short time, the responsibility for forming the government will be given to Benjamin Netanyahu, after which President Rivlin and Prime Minister Netanyahu will give remarks,” Rivlin tweeted on Wednesday.
Shortly thereafter, Netanyahu made a televised appearance confirming the decision. “Tonight, I received the mandate to establish the government from the hands of President Reuben Rivlin. I thank him and thank you, citizens of Israel,” Netanyahu said Wednesday. “I will make every effort to establish the only government possible for Israel at this time—a broad national unity government.”
Rivlin chose Netanyahu over the prime minister’s main rival, centrist Benny Gantz. If Netanyahu proves unsuccessful at forming a government—once again—Gantz will likely be given a chance.
Israel’s unprecedented repeat election earlier this month delivered yet another deadlocked vote, falling short of what was necessary for Gantz to unseat Netanyahu as the next prime minister. If Gantz’s Blue and White party had gained enough votes, it would have signaled an end to Netanyahu's record-setting 10 consecutive years in the position. The final tally instead saw Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party adding an extra seat in parliament.
The election was the second time within a year that Israelis were asked to vote for a prime minister.
Netanyahu and Gantz first went head-to-head in April, but when results from that election were deemed too close to call, the whole country was left on a cliffhanger. After both men declared victory and Netanyahu failed to form a coalition government, it was decided that a do-over election would be held months later. The decision marked the first time in the country’s history that new elections were forcibly held due to a failure to form a government.
Despite being given a second chance to form a government, Netanyahu is still facing three separate corruption cases that include charges of fraud, bribery, and breach of trust. Israel’s Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has said he intends to indict Netanyahu, but will officially decide whether to press charges after a long-delayed hearing in October.
Squelching the charges is expected to be the prime minister’s first order of business after forming a government. Netanyahu is relying on his hard-line religious and nationalist allies to grant him immunity from prosecution—but in order for that to be a possibility, he first has to secure a 61-seat majority in the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament.
With only 55 seats in parliament that officially endorsed his bid for another term—only one more than Gantz’s 54 seats—the prime minister now has 28 days to assemble a 61 seat majority. Netanyahu faces an unenviable uphill battle to close that crucial six-seat deficit to form a coalition government.
Netanyahu was unsuccessful last time around in large part because of one man: Avigdor Liberman. Once Netanyahu’s political partner and director-general of his office, the prime minister later publicly disavowed his actions, leading Liberman to quit the post. When he returned to politics, Liberman created his own party and became a volatile member of the Knesset, quitting or getting fired at least five times. In the last election, it was Liberman’s refusal to join his party in a coalition with Netanyahu that precipitated the do-over election.
In an effort to lock down a majority at the polls, the prime minister aggressively campaigned on protecting national security in hopes of firing up his nationalist base.
With only a few months to turn the tide from the last national election, Netanyahu made unfounded claims that Arabs—which make up about 20 percent of the country’s population, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics—conspired with his opponent to steal the election. The prime minister also claimed that areas where the ethnic group is prevalent have fallen victim to voter fraud, and unsuccessfully proposed setting up cameras in polling stations on election day, an idea that was largely seen as an attempt to suppress Arab Israeli turnout.