Israel’s Arab-dominated Joint List party moved on Sunday to back the center-left bloc of Benny Gantz, who is challenging Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing alliance, to form a new government.
With final results all but in, neither Gantz nor Netanyahu command a majority in parliament, so the Arab List’s decision to end its usual policy of withholding support for any candidate in the wake of elections could nudge President Reuven Rivlin to ask Gantz to form a government.
Rivlin, who began consulting with party leaders on Sunday to discuss who should lead the country after no clear victor emerged from Tuesday’s election, suggested Gantz and Netanyahu join forces, though it is uncertain who would be the senior partner.
Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud failed, for the second time in five months, to secure a clear election victory. The centrist Blue and White party led by ex-armed forces chief Gantz has a slight lead with nearly all votes counted.
No party drawn from the 21% Arab minority has ever been part of an Israeli government. But an increased turnout saw the Joint List win 13 seats, making it the third largest grouping.
Joint List’s support does not mean it will sit in the governing coalition, but its backing gives Gantz’s center-left bloc 57 seats, compared to Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc of 55.
Netanyahu denounced the Arab party support of Gantz. He said it meant only two choices — “a minority government that leans on those that reject Israel as a Jewish, democratic state,” or a “broad national government”.
Gantz has so far rebuffed Netanyahu’s calls to join a unity government.
Netanyahu and Gantz are now seeking other potential coalition allies, prominent among whom is the far-right former defence minister Avigdor Lieberman. He secured eight seats for his Yisrael Beitenu party, making him a potential kingmaker.
Lieberman on Sunday reiterated his call for a unity government and said he would not recommend either candidate in his meeting with Rivlin.