The predominantly Arab Joint List party on Sunday named Blue & White leader Benny Gantz as its choice to form the next government.
The recommendation to President Reuven Rivlin during a meeting at his Jerusalem residence was unanimous among all four factions that make up the Joint List, despite earlier indications that some members were reluctant to do so.
Chairman Ayman Odeh touted his party's achievement in the elections in which it won 15 seats, saying it gave the Joint List a greater say in the running of the country.
"As far as we are concerned, it is a struggle for our legitimacy, and as we become stronger no one can ignore us," he said.
"We were in talks with Blue & White and discussed all kinds of issues, including the diplomatic front. We talked, for example, about a huge economic plan, the eradication of violence in Arab society. Some of the things we agreed on and some we still have gaps," he said.
Odeh warned however that his party would not support a unity government between Likud and Blue & White.
"If Gantz enters a national unity government we will be the main opponents," he said. "If Gantz wants to establish a center-left government then we recommend him. We want a center-left government, and all 15 members of the Joint List do recommend him."
Odeh stressed that the decision stemmed more from opposition to Netanyahu's continued rule than for love for Gantz.
"There was a tough argument among the Joint List," Odeh said. "We sat and argued until midnight. Some of our members, including the Balad party, had a very clear position that they opposed any recommendation. At the same time, Balad took a courageous decision as in their view unity of the common list and respecting the majority decision is the main thing."
Regarding Netanyahu's call for the establishment of an emergency government, a senior Joint List official said: "We will not join an emergency government headed by Netanyahu. He is still inciting against the members of the Joint List and saying we are supporters of terrorism."
Now that the Joint List has backed Gantz, the ball is in Yisrael Beytenu's court, as its recommendation could give the Blue & White leader the support of the 61 MKs he needs to form a stable government. The party has yet to decide who it will support.
After the March 2 election, party chairman Avigdor Liberman met twice with Gantz, and the last meeting was also attended by the Blue & White leadership and Gantz even agreed to Liberman's demands.
However, with the coronavirus crisis intensifying, Lieberman on Saturday backed the creation of an emergency government consisting of only Likud and Blue & White, which he said would facilitate decision-making in the fight against the virus.
But on Sunday morning, Liberman struck a less conciliatory note, hitting back against Netanyahu's calls for a unity government.
"Because I have known Netanyahu for more than one day, I became convinced that there was nothing behind the call but a blame game and attempt to delegitimize the opposition parties. Netanyahu wants to have fresh elections in six to eight months, borne on the wings of his great success against coronavirus."
The president, who has repeatedly called for a unity government as a way to end the political deadlock, said Sunday: "I ask of all party representatives who come here to do so in the understanding that we must now deal with forming a government as soon as possible, that we lead our people at this complex time. It may be that forming a government demands interim arrangements for the coming months. I have no doubt that this is what the people expects of its leaders at this time."
Gesher chair Orly Levy will not meet with Rivlin after she said she would not recommend Gantz – a stark contrast to the commitment she made during the election campaign.
Levy, whose party did not pass the threshold in the Sept. 2019 election, teamed up with the left-wing Meretz and Labor parties for the March 2 vote, winning her a seat in the new Knesset. After the election, she backtracked on her pledge to support Gantz.
Levy told Ynet's sister publication Yedioth Ahronoth that she would not recommend Benjamin Netanyahu either and the president's office said that her position would be taken into account.