President Reuven Rivlin was due Tuesday to announce a candidate to try to form the next government, a day after consultations with political parties left Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with the most endorsements - but not enough for a clear majority.
Rivlin, who has wide discretion under law in making his choice, told officials from Netanyahu's Likud party on Monday that “moral considerations” could come into play, an apparent reference to the prime minister's ongoing corruption trial.
But Rivlin also expressed concern that no candidate would be successful in forming a government in the limited time allocated, potentially plunging the country into its fifth elections since April 2019.
Whoever is picked will have 28 days to try to put together a coalition and can request a two-week extension from Rivlin, who has the option of assigning the task to someone else if no government is formed.
The March 23 election ended with neither Netanyahu's right-wing, religious bloc nor a prospective alliance of his opponents winning a majority.
Netanyahu on Monday received the recommendations of 52 lawmakers in the 120-member Knesset. Centrist Opposition Leader Yair Lapid of the Yesh Atid party got 45 endorsements and former defense minister Naftali Bennett of the far-right Yamina got seven - all from his own party.
Three parties with a total of 16 seats declined in their meetings with Rivlin to nominate any candidate. They included the Islamist Ra'am party, whose leader Mansour Abbas was wooed by both sides as a potential political kingmaker, and the Joint List alliance of predominantly Arab parties from which it split before the elections.
The third party to decline to endorse one side or the other was Gideon Saar's right-wing New Hope, which the former Netanyahu ally founded after leaving Likud.
Netanyahu has urged Bennett and Saar to join him to break the deadlock.
Bennett has been non-committal about teaming up again with Netanyahu, with whom he has had a rocky relationship.
Saar has said he would not serve under Netanyahu, citing the prime minister’s corruption trial but stopped short of endorsing Lapid.
Netanyahu, who has denied any criminal wrongdoing, attended part of the court session and later repeated accusations that the prosecution’s case was “an attempted coup” by the media and the judiciary aimed at ousting a “strong, right-wing prime minister."
With Rivlin’s decision pending, Lapid said on Monday he had proposed a coalition deal to Bennett. Under the arrangement, Bennett would serve first as prime minister and then Lapid would take over.
“The Israeli public needs to see that its leaders can work together,” Lapid said in a televised address.
Bennett made no immediate comment about Lapid’s offer. Political commentators said such a deal might also pave the way for Saar to join Lapid, with the prospect of Bennett, a fellow right-winger, at the helm.