Israeli president tasked with choosing candidate to form Israels next government after inconclusive election
Benjamin Netanyahus chances of being chosen to form Israels next government appear to have improved after three politicians from the countrys Arab minority made clear they would not endorse his rival.
On Sunday, an alliance of Arab parliamentarians who largely represent Palestinian citizens of Israel announced they would endorse ex-military general Benny Gantz.
Support from the Joint List, which won 13 seats in Tuesdays polls and made the bloc the third-largest force in the 120-seat Knesset, put Gantz slightly in front of Netanyahu. He had 57 recommendations, two ahead of the incumbent prime minister.
However, Israels president Reuven Rivlin, who is tasked after an election with picking a candidate to form a government, said on Monday morning that three Arab politicians from the Palestinian nationalist Balad party had abstained.
He confirmed the recommendations from the Joint List would account for only 10 endorsements, putting Netanyahu ahead by one recommendation.
The president said he had invited Netanyahu and Gantz to meet him for closed-door talks on Monday evening in a effort to break the deadlock that has thrown uncertainly over Israels political future.
Rivlin, whose role is usually ceremonial, is not obliged to pick Netanyahu. He can choose any candidate he believes has the best chance of forming a government. Usually, the decision is clear, and often goes to the leader of the largest party, but the muddied election result has created an impasse.
The president has also suggested that since neither Netanyahu or Gantz have a majority of 61 seats that they form a unity government together.
Netanyahu has backed that idea, although he has been coy about who would lead. Gantz has ruled out serving with Netanyahu, who is facing the prospect of three corruption indictments.
If they do not join together, the president has the power to choose either, who will then have up to six weeks to form a majority government. If that person fails, Rivlin could then ask a second candidate.
That scenario played out in May after Netanyahu failed to cobble together a coalition following a similar election result. But rather than give the opposition a chance to forge a government, he instead pushed to dissolve the Knesset, triggering repeat elections and giving himself another chance.
Many fear a third election will be called in the current stalemate continues. Israels apparent kingmaker, the far-right ultranationalist Avigdor Lieberman, has said he will not back either and also called for a unity government.
Sundays endorsement of Gantz by Arab parties, while not giving him a clear lead, broke an almost-three-decade policy of not supporting an Israeli leader while the occupation in the Palestinians territories continues.
The last time Arab parties backed a candidate was in 1992, when they suported Yitzhak Rabin, who went on to sign the Oslo accords with the Palestinians. Palestinian citizens of Israel, or Arab Israelis, make up close to a fifth of the 9 million population.
Leaders in the group made clear they were not backing Gantz, who led a devastating 2014 war on Gaza, but instead attempting to topple Netanyahu, whose election campaign focused on demonising Arab Palestinian citizens and who pushed for a law they say made them second-class citizens.
We have become illegitimate in Israeli politics in the Netanyahu era, the leader of the Joint List, Ayman Odeh, told Rivlin when informing him of the endorsement. We are this time recommending Benny Gantz to form the next government.
The prominent Arab parliament member Ahmad Tibi added: History is done: well do what is needed to bring down Netanyahu.