President Reuven Rivlin on Wednesday tasked Blue and White Party leader Benny Gantz with trying to form a coalition government, two days after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was unable to do so when his allotted 28 days came to an end.
This is the first time that someone other than Netanyahu has been asked to form the government for more than a decade.
President Rivlin said: "Now there is a need for a national unity government" adding he hopes all sides make the necessary compromises to allow one to be formed.
Benny Gantz said he felt honored and humbled by the task at hand and intends to fulfill his promise to form a liberal unity government
Gantz met earlier Wednesday with the three other senior members of his party - MKs Yair Lapid, Moshe Ya'alon and Gabi Ashkenazi - to formulate the Blue and White policy ahead of his meeting with Rivlin.
Like Netanyahu, Gantz falls short of support from the 61MKs needed to form a majority government. Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman has repeatedly called for a unity government between Likud and Blue and White, and with his party's eight Knesset seats has become a de factor political kingmaker.
Netanyahu announced on Monday night that he was unable to form a government, blaming what he called Gantz's intransigence in a video message posted on social media.
"I have informed President Rivlin that I'm giving the mandate back to him," the prime minister said in his video message. "Ever since I received the mandate I have worked tirelessly, both openly and covertly, to form a broad coalition government. That's what the people want, and that's what Israel needs in face of the the ever-growing security threats in the region."
"I did my best to form a broad coalition government and avoid another round of elections, unfortunately, time after time, Gantz refused. First he refused the president's outline for a (unity) government, then he refused to meet with me, then he refused to send his negotiating team, and finally, he refused the compromise I presented to him."
Following Netanyahu's announcement, the director-general of the president's official residence, Harel Tubi, informed political party leaders that Rivlin was to give the mandate to Gantz, who like Netanyhau will have 28 days to form a coalition.
According to senior sources in the Likud, Netanyahu will now battle against the formation of a minority coalition by Gantz, which the Likud says is solely aimed at ousting Netanyahu.
"The nightmare scenario is the formation of a minority government whose purpose isn’t to properly govern, but to remove Netanyahu from the position of prime minster," the Likud sources said.
Netanyahu intends to fight the formation of such a government with a whole political campaign, he's intentions includes fighting for the public's opinion, and pressuring political players to be uncooperative with such a coalition, additionally, Netanyahu intends to strengthen the unity among the right-wing bloc and to further cement his position in the Likud.
In response to Netanyahu's claim that Gantz was unwilling to cooperate, Blue and White party said: "The time for spin is over, now it is time to act. Blue and White is determined to form a liberal unity government headed by Benny Gantz, just like the public voted for a month ago."
Blue and White intends to meet with the heads of all the Knesset's factions, including those in Netanyahu's right-wing bloc.
The party is set to hold its first coalition meeting with Likud representatives in order to discuss the possibility of a unity government formed and initially headed by Gantz.
"Outgoing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has failed once again to form a coalition and is finally forced to return the mandate to the president. We once again remind everyone that we were only supposed to go to elections next month, and all we've been through stems from the criminal involvement and fight for survival of Netanyahu - the rest is all spins and lies."
Meanwhile, Joint List MK Ahmad Tibi said earlier Wednesday that his party has been in contact with Blue and White, adding that most of the Arab population is in favor of support for a government from the outside but that Netanyahu and Likud had "failed" at leading the country and had to go.