Jerusalem (CNN)A third Israeli election within 12 months now appears more likely after former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz also failed to form a government.
Gantz returned the mandate to Israel’s President Wednesday evening, a spokesman for his Blue and White party told CNN, after 28 days of negotiations to form a coalition proved unsuccessful.
Following the failure of both Gantz and Netanyahu to form a government, Israel is now in unprecedented political territory. For the first time in the country’s history, Israel now enters a 21-day period where any of the 120 members of Knesset who can muster a majority of 61 signatures can form a government and be Prime Minister.
Earlier Wednesday, political kingmaker Avigdor Liberman refused to back either Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or Gantz, leaving both without the seats necessary to form a coalition.
Former defense minister Liberman blamed both men for their failure to compromise in order to reach a unity government before a midnight Wednesday deadline expires for Gantz to form a government.
“If you ask me who is to blame for the situation? Both parties together — both Blue and White, and Likud,” said Liberman at a meeting of his Yisrael Beitenu party on Wednesday afternoon. “There was a blame game between the two parties, and in the end, it was a blame game without the wherewithal to make dramatic decisions.”
Liberman said he would not support a minority government on either side of the political divide.
“The Arab Joint List party is really a fifth column. We should not hide that,” he said, referring to the parliamentary bloc of Arab parties, which had been touted as possibly supporting a center-left minority government led by Gantz.
And referring to the ultra-Orthodox religious parties, which would be essential in any right-wing government led by Netanyahu, Liberman said, “I am sorry to say that the Haredi parties are more and more becoming anti-Zionist parties — one should not deny that they are anti-Zionist.”
Liberman suggested changing the political system to overcome the current political deadlock in Israel, but most observers believe that effecting such a change would be extremely difficult without a functioning coalition.
“All that we are seeing at the moment is a sure way to more elections,” said Liberman.
If Gantz fails to form a government by the deadline of midnight Wednesday, the 120 members of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, have three further weeks to put forward another member of Knesset with the backing of a majority of parliamentarians. If no third name emerges, new elections are automatically triggered, to be held three months later, with March 3 currently seen as the most probable date.
Israel has been trapped in a state of political deadlock since the first general election this year, held in April. Netanyahu was tasked with forming a government after that poll but was unable to convince former Defense Minister Liberman to join him, leaving him short of a majority in Parliament. It was the first time in Israel’s history that a political leader had been unable to form a government after an election. But rather than give Gantz the opportunity to try to form a coalition, Netanyahu called a second general election for September.
In the background of all the political maneuverings, are three corruption probes involving Prime Minister Netanyahu. He has maintained his innocence throughout, but a decision from the Attorney General whether to formally indict the Prime Minister could be just days away now. Just what the AG decides is likely to have a big impact on how Israeli politics moves forward.