Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for a unity government on Thursday, after a second election this year produced no decisive winner.
He had previously insisted he would lead a coalition between right-wing and religious parties, but the election results so far have indicated that neither he nor his main opponent – Benny Gantz of the centrist Blue and White party – will be able to form a government.
A unity government would include the two largest parties, Netanyahu’s Likud and Gantz’s Blue and White, instead of either one of them forming a coalition with some of the smaller parties.
“During the elections, I called for the establishment of a right-wing government. But unfortunately the election results show that this is not possible,” Netanyahu said in a statement.
“The people did not decide between the two blocs,” he said, adding that there “is no choice” but to form a unity government.
He called on Gantz to meet him later on Thursday.
He said that he was against going to a third election, which was seen as the only alternative to a unity government.
In his statement, however, Netanyahu still asserted that the day before, he and his right-wing partners agreed “that we are going as one bloc with one shared representative for negotiations.”
Likud and the other right-wing and religious parties backing Netanyahu have agreed that they will not enter a coalition without each other, a Likud spokeswoman said.
The Blue and White party has repeatedly said that it will not sit in a coalition led by Netanyahu, who faces indictments over corruption charges, subject to a hearing which is set to be held in two weeks time.
The party has said it would sit with Likud in any other circumstance, but Likud members have publicly said that there is no possibility of replacing Netanyahu as their leader.
Blue and White has also called for a secular unity government, while the parties Netanyahu has insisted will join him include the ultra-Orthodox ones.
Naftali Bennet of the far-right Yamina party wrote on Twitter that Gantz should “immediately answer Prime Minister Netanyahu’s call to meet, and stop with this silly boycott.”
There was no immediate response from Blue and White.
Israeli daily Haaretz reported Thursday morning that with 97 per cent of the votes counted, Blue and White had a slight lead with 33 out of 120 Knesset seats, and Likud was behind with 31 seats.
The report also said that the centre-left bloc had 57 seats and the right-wing and religious bloc had 55.
Avigdor Lieberman’s right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party had the remaining 8 seats.
He is not included in either bloc as it is unclear whom he will recommend to the president for premier.
This was the second election held in Israel in just over five months, after Netanyahu failed to form a coalition following his victory in the April election.
Lieberman at the time refused to join his government over disagreements with the ultra-Orthodox parties.