The train is heading quickly towards a third election in Israel, and no one seems to be able to stop it.

Rivlin, Netanyahu, Gantz meet September 27, 2019
Blue and White leader Benny Gantz (L), President Reuven Rivlin (C) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) meet at the President's Residence in Jerusalem on September 25, 2019 (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

On Thursday evening, President Rivlin announced that he has appointed Netanyahu with the impossible task to form a government after the attempts of negotiating a unity government on equal terms stranded.

Netanyahu has strong support of 55 Knesset members. The parties that together recommended Gantz have 57 Knesset members, but 3 of the Arab Knesset members refused to recommend Gantz, and the other 10 said that they recommend him, but will not sit in a government with him. Based on this, Rivlin concluded that Netanyahu has a higher chance of being able to form a government.

No one sees how Netanyahu could possibly succeed now, if the previous negotiations failed. Should he fail, he will return the mandate to President Rivlin and it will be up to the president to decide what to do. Many expect Netanyahu to do this as soon as next week. Some commentators said that he might not even try to negotiate, but the negotiation teams of the two parties did meet on Friday.

When President Rivlin gets the mandate back, he will have two options. He can decide to give a chance to another candidate, presumably Gantz, but he could also decide to skip directly to the third phase, which is giving the mandate to the Knesset. At that point, the president is out of the picture. Should this happen, the Knesset has 21 days to get 61 Knesset members’ signatures for a possible candidate, and if they fail, the law will leave no other option but third elections.

If Netanyahu gives the mandate back next week, and Rivlin skips to the third phase immediately, the next election campaign will start at the end of October 2019, and the elections will be held in January 2020. If Rivlin gives Gantz a chance, and he fails as well, the schedule will be pushed 28 days further and the elections will be in February. President Rivlin currently seems to be determined to shorten the schedule as much as possible in order to minimize the period of uncertainty.

There are a few reasons why the negotiations are stuck. Netanyahu has signed a paper where he binds himself to represent the entire right wing block, including the ultra-orthodox, in the negotiations. Gantz on the other hand wants to create a liberal unity government with Likud but without the other right wing parties. The Blue White party has also objected against having a prime minister with possible corruption charges hanging over him. Gantz hopes that Rivlin will give him the mandate after Netanyahu fails, and that Netanyahu’s failure will give him the extra leverage he needs to get the support he needs to establish a government.

A surprising statement came this week from Arnon Bar-David, the leader of the Histadrut, the national workers’ union. He called on the left-wing labor party to negotiate with Netanyahu, thereby circumventing Gantz, to “hear what he has to offer.” Amir Peretz, head of the labor party has stated that he will not negotiate with Netanyahu.

In the next few months we will either see a surprising and creative solution for a new government, or we will head to new elections.

In the meanwhile, Israel has been with a transitional government for almost a year. Thousands of law proposals are stuck, no new hospitals can be built, no new judges or police chiefs can be appointed, no long-term plans for the IDF or for the school system can be approved, and there is no budget for 2020. We might enter 2020 still using the 2019 budget on a severe budget deficit and another election that costs billions of shekels.