JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Monday he was giving up on his bid to form the next Israeli government, passing the baton to another political candidate for the first time in more than a decade.

Success for Benny Gantz, a former military chief of staff, however, is far from certain, and according to some it may be mathematically and ideologically impossible. 

If he wants to become Israel’s next prime minister, Gantz must now enter negotiations with some very unlikely coalition partners or persuade the ruling Likud party to drop its longtime leader. 

Little appetite for compromise

President Reuven Rivlin, who in the coming days will hand the mandate for forming the next government to Gantz, has called on Netanyahu’s Likud and Gantz’s Blue and White parties to put aside their differences and join in a unity government. He even sketched out a plan for them to alternate being prime minister.

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But the sides have remained steadfast in their terms. Netanyahu insists on including a bloc of right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties in any future government. Gantz, who has refused to negotiate with a preestablished political alliance, has called on Likud to move forward alone.

Gantz has also made clear his reluctance to join a government led by a prime minister facing legal prosecution — a situation Netanyahu could find himself in next month, as Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit decides whether to indict him in three criminal cases centered on fraud, bribery and breach of trust. 

While the barriers seem insurmountable, Gantz is determined, and in such an unprecedented political situation some surprising and unlikely scenarios could arise. 

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Possible — if unlikely — scenarios

Blue and White could try to establish a minority government, bolstered by two very small left-wing parties and backed by factions who remain outside the coalition.

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Such support would need to come from the Joint List of Arab parties, who in a historic decision last month decided to recommend Gantz as prime minister.

The party led by hard-line former defense minister Avigdor Liberman would also need to be on board. A former political ally of Netanyahu, Liberman has refrained from aligning himself with either Likud or Blue and White, stating his preference is for the two largest parties to unite. 

Other possibilities could include a move inside Likud to remove Netanyahu as the leader. Although there have been some hints at a leadership race, the technicalities of such a change appear inconceivable at this stage. 

Of course, Gantz could, for some unforeseen reason, decide to join with Netanyahu despite the possible indictments and allow him to remain prime minister. Or some of Netanyahu’s right-wing, religious bloc could decide to join with Gantz. It’s also possible Liberman might even decide to throw his support behind Netanyahu. 

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With none of those scenarios likely, there is increasing speculation among political pundits that Israelis will be sent back to the polling booths for a third election in less than a year.

Key days over the next six months

Oct. 23-24 — At some point on Wednesday or Thursday, Rivlin will invite Gantz to his official residence in Jerusalem and bestow upon him the mandate to try forming the next government. For many Israelis the imagery will be jarring as for the first time in nearly 11 years a candidate other than Netanyahu will, at least, have the opportunity to become the country’s next prime minister. 

Nov. 20-21 — Gantz will have a maximum of 28 days to persuade at least 61 Knesset members to back his bid for prime minister and join a coalition with his Blue and White party at the helm. Though it appears unlikely he can draw such support, any one of the scenarios outlined above could play out. If he is unsuccessful, however, he too must return the mandate to the president. 

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Dec. 10-11 — The president will then turn to the Knesset, giving its members 21 days to find an alternative candidate for prime minister. Both Netanyahu or Gantz could try their luck again, or a third parliamentarian could try, but any contender would again need the backing of at least 61 Knesset members. 

March — If no single candidate is successful in forming a government, parliament will automatically be dissolved and a third election will take place within 90 days. 

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