President Reuven Rivlin on Sunday will begin consultations with the party leaders in an effort to nominate a prime minister who will be tasked with forming government after no clear winner emerged following last week's elections.
Neither Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud nor Benny Gantz’s Blue and White could muster to win enough Knesset seats in the September 17 elections to form a clear majority coalition. Blue and White emerged with a slight advantage by winning 33 seats, with Likud gaining 31 seats.
The president is expected to announce his choice once he has met with all the parties that captured seats in the 120-member Knesset. Under Israeli law, after consultations with the parties the president taps a legislator whom he believes has the best chance of forming a government, delegating 28 days, with a two-week extension if necessary, to complete the task.
The alliance of Israel's biggest Arab parties, the Joint List, is expected to play a major role in this round of consultations as the notoriously anti-establishment faction is nearing a decision on whether recommend Benny Gantz as their candidate for prime minister.
A surge in turnout gave the Arab-dominated Joint List 13 of the Knesset’s 120 seats, making it the third-largest grouping behind Likud, and Blue and White.
“It is an interesting position, never before held by someone from the Arab population. It has a lot of influence,” Ayman Odeh, leader of the Joint List, told reporters outside his home in Haifa, a mixed Arab and Jewish city in northern Israel.
Jamal Zahalka, the leader of the far-left Balad - which is part of the Joint List - is said to be against backing Gantz, which might sabotage the recommendation altogether, say the sources close to the party.
"All that Gantz wants is to take the votes of half a million Arab citizens and form a unity government with Likud and Liberman, and we don’t know if he’ll meet the demands (the party has presented him with)," said Balad MK Sami Abu Shehadeh.
If the Joint List was to nonetheless recommend Gantz for prime minister, he would be the likely candidate to receive a mandate from the president with 57 seats compared with Netanyahu’s potential 55.
Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu, meanwhile, is expected to hold a closed party meeting on Sunday before consulting with the president later in the day. Sources in the Likud say the right-wing, secular party is unlikely to recommend Gantz as prime minister due to Liberman’s unwillingness to enter a coalition with the Arab and left-wing parties.
"The assessment which emerges from the talks with Netanyahu and other right-wing parties is that Gantz can’t form a government,” said one Likud source. “Gantz has no other option because Liberman will not sit in government with Meretz that relies on the opinion of the Arabs.”
The process is expected to last at least two days with the meetings being broadcast live for the purpose of transparency.
Reuters contributed to this report