Israel’s president has invited the two main victors from the country’s neck-and-neck election to meet, seeking to break a deadlock that has complicated his task of trying to choose the country’s next prime minister.
While formally maintaining only a ceremonial role, President Reuven Rivlin must choose the candidate he believes is best positioned to form a majority coalition in parliament.
But last week’s do-over election was inconclusive, with neither Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s conservative Likud party nor the centrist Blue and White led by former army chief Benny Gantz having a clear path to forming a government.
“There is one thing that the people are largely united over and that is the desire that there won’t be third elections,” Mr Rivlin said.
The likeliest outcome is a unity government between the two rivals.
Both sides have said they support the idea, but they disagree over who will head it, and Mr Gantz has vowed not to sit with Mr Netanyahu so long as he faces a likely indictment over a number of corruption scandals.
Mr Rivlin on Monday wrapped up his second and final day of consultations with each party in parliament.
Based on their recommendations, he must now select the candidate he deems has the best chance of forming a stable coalition.
He is set to make his decision by Wednesday.
In most elections, one of the major parties, along with smaller allies, controls a parliamentary majority. But that did not happen this time.
Maverick politician Avigdor Lieberman, whose Yisrael Beitenu party controls eight seats, has refused to endorse either side and is pushing for a unity deal.
Mr Rivlin’s office announced that he would summon both Mr Netanyahu and Mr Gantz for a meeting later on Monday.
Mr Rivlin will likely pick the candidate with the most recommendations, who will then have 28 days to try to cobble together a government.
If the first candidate chosen fails within that time, the second is given the opportunity.
If he too doesn’t manage, the country could head to an unprecedented third election in less than a year.
In Mr Rivlin’s first round of talks on Sunday, the Joint Arab List threw its support behind Mr Gantz, the first time the Arab parties had recommended a candidate since 1992, saying it was doing so in a bid to topple Mr Netanyahu, whose anti-Arab rhetoric has infuriated and offended Arabs in Israel during his decade in power.
The backing promised to give Mr Gantz a slight edge in support.
But on Monday, the Joint Arab List said it was withdrawing some of its members’ recommendations for Mr Gantz, trimming his support to below Mr Netanyahu’s.
Last week’s repeat election produced no clear winner, with Blue and White receiving 33 seats in Israel’s 120-member parliament and Mr Netanyahu’s Likud garnering 31 seats.
Both sides fell short of the majority needed to form a government and therefore must seek the support of other parties.
The vote last week was a never-before held second election which was triggered after Mr Netanyahu was unable to forge a coalition and then dissolved parliament.