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Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz. Image Credit: AP

Tel Aviv: Benny Gantz, who’s been trying to unseat Benjamin Netanyahu for more than a year, was handed the chance to form Israel’s next government - another twist in the country’s long-running political crisis.

President Reuven Rivlin will hand Gantz the mandate on Monday, according to a statement from the president’s office. Gantz received recommendations from 61 members of parliament, which, if they’re folded into a coalition, would represent a parliamentary majority.

Netanyahu’s Likud party won the most votes in Israel’s election two weeks ago - the third in less than a year - but his bloc of nationalist and religious parties was still smaller than Gantz’s, whose connecting tissue forced the legally-embattled Netanyahu out of office.

While that was enough to give Gantz a head start it’s still unclear if this constellation of parties would sit together in government - and Netanyahu may still have a chance if Gantz fails. Both men failed to form governments in the second election, when the voting results were similar.

Two of Gantz’s key backers - Yisrael Beitenu, a secular nationalist party headed by former defence minister Avigdor Liberman - and the Joint List, an amalgamation of Arab parties led by Ayman Odeh - have an acrid history of political disagreement. Liberman takes a tougher line on relations with Palestinians, who have ethnic ties with Arab citizens of Israel.

But the men remain united in moving Israeli politics into the post-Netanyahu era. Gantz, who only began his political career a little over a year ago, quickly rose to prominence because of his security experience and his a record free of suspected corruption that has dogged Netanyahu for a few years.

Netanyahu was due to start his corruption trial this week. That was delayed by two months after the justice ministry, headed by a Likud member, placed the courts system in a state of emergency because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Rivlin has been calling for Netanyahu and Gantz to unite in government to help the country tackle the spread of the virus. The political stalemate had already rendered Israel unable to deal with national problems like a growing budget deficit, and now emergency measures Netanyahu has taken to contain the illness may cause the economy to contract this year.

Gantz says he is ready to help the government in the campaign against the coronavirus, though he has accused Netanyahu of cynically manipulating this emergency to postpone his day in court.