by Keren Setton
JERUSALEM, Oct. 22 (Xinhua) -- A month after Israel's second general election in a year, the incumbent Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Monday evening that he is unable to form a coalition.
With the announcement, President Reuven Rivlin is expected to task Benny Gantz, Netanyahu's main rival, with the task. Gantz's chances of success are also slim, leading Israel into further political uncertainty and raising the probability for a third election within a year.
In a video statement Netanyahu released, he said he had tried to create a unity government together with Gantz's Blue and White party. "I made every effort to bring Gantz to the government, but he repeatedly declined," said Netanyahu.
Netanyahu's failure is the second one this year. After the first general election in April, he failed in organizing a government which led Israel to another election.
In addition to his political woe, Netanyahu is under the threat of corruption charges which will be judged in the coming weeks. Gantz's party has said it refuses to sit in a government with a party led by a politician under such suspicions.
"There will be many attempts now to form a coalition, and many of them will be quiet and behind the scenes," said Yossi Schein, a professor of the Political Science Department at Tel Aviv University, adding "this is a time of great tension."
Netanyahu is Israel's longest-serving prime minister. His failure to form a government for the second time in a row makes Gantz the first-ever Israeli politician after Netanyahu to try to form a government in the last decade.
As a former military chief of staff, Gantz seems to be less experienced than Netanyahu with regard to politics.
"It is time for action. Blue and White party is determined to form a liberal unity government led by Benny Gantz," read a statement on the Twitter account of the party.
Gantz has 28 days to form a government and the odds are stacked against him. Gaining support of at least 61 parliament members out of the total 120 is essential to form a government. But currently he has only 54 votes.
As many parties have to align with each other for Gantz to form a government, scenarios seem currently unlikely. But Israeli politics is unpredictable.
"Chances of forming a unity government at this point look very slim," Schein said. "But it can still happen, as we have witnessed such things in the past."
So far Netanyahu is still considered to be "a political magician" rather than Gantz who has yet to rack up experience in the political field.
The sitting Israeli prime minister only gained 55 votes as he reluctantly returned the mandate to the president. The political deadlock in which Israel has been in for several months now does not appear to be ended.
Netanyahu started the coalition negotiations by securing a bloc of parties led by the Likud and members of smaller right-wing religious Jewish parties. When Gantz says he wants a secular government, it is a signal for Netanyahu to lose his partners, something the latter refuses to do so far.
According to Yonatan Freeman from the Department of Political Science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, this might happen.
"During the Netanyahu-led negotiations, he said Gantz needs to compromise because of very pressing security matters," Freeman told Xinhua. Netanyahu might cite the same reasons in order to justify abandoning the bloc and sitting in the same government with Gantz.
"A deterioration in the security situation will trump all the cards and lead to the formation of a government," Freeman added.
"I don't see him giving up the bloc," Schein said. "They will abandon him and lend their support to Gantz. He is trapped by the bloc he created, just as it protects him. It is also an impediment."
If Gantz fails, the president would task the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, to endorse a third candidate to try and form a coalition. At this point, it seems unlikely such a candidate exists, plunging Israel into a third election within a year.
But another option is a minority government of less than 61 members with support from outside the government that will guarantee its survival. This would most likely mean that a government led by Gantz will be supported by the United List of Arab parties, a difficult pill to swallow for hardliners, including some in the Blue and White.
"Such a government gives a lot of power to small parties, which means in the long term this will not be a stable government. Such a government is unprecedented in Israel," explained Freeman, pointing out that Netanyahu would act vigorously against such a government.
"Nothing guarantees the support of parties outside of the minority government, but the fact that those parties don't want the alternative government will give the coalition some stability," said Schein.
For now, Israel is functioning with an interim government. The forecast for stability seems foggy and the coming weeks will be very telling as to the country's future of the political arena.