Israel lurched closer to an unprecedented third election in one year on Wednesday as Benjamin Netanyahu’s centrist challenger admitted that he had failed to form a government.
Both Mr Netanyahu and Benny Gantz, the former general who heads the centrist Blue & White party, have now tried and failed to form governments – pushing Israel into an ever deeper political crisis.
For the first time in Israeli history, neither of the major parties have succeeded in putting together a governing coalition.
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The country now enters an unusual 21-day period where any of Israel’s 120 MPs, including Mr Gantz or Mr Netanyahu, can become prime minister if they can show they have the support of a majority of their colleagues.
If no clear winner emerges by December 11, Israel will plunge into its third election in 12 months. Aides to both Mr Gantz and Mr Netanyahu said they believed that was the likeliest outcome.
Both party leaders said they were in favour of a national national government between Mr Gantz’s Blue & White and Mr Netanyahu’s Likud. But the two sides were never able to reach an agreement on what that unity government would look like.
In a scorching speech, Mr Gantz accused the prime minister of continuing the political crisis to shield himself from the criminal corruption charges he is facing. “You are leading us to a dangerous collision that will exert a historic price,” Mr Gantz warned.
Prosecutors are expected to bring a formal indictment on corruption charges against Mr Netanyahu next week. He denies any wrongdoing.
Mr Netanyahu insisted during negotiations that his Right-wing allies be part of any coalition government, a demand that Blue & White said was unacceptable. The two sides also discussed an arrangement in which Mr Gantz and Mr Netanyahu would rotate as prime minister but could not agree who would go first.
Meanwhile, More than 20 Iranian and Syrian regime fighters were reportedly killed in a wave of Israeli airstrikes in and around Damascus on Wednesday, marking the bloodiest Israeli raid in Syria in months.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 16 foreign fighters, including Iranian soldiers, were killed during the attack along with seven Syrian regime troops. Two civilians were also reportedly killed.