Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called for a broad coalition with his main rival after failing to win a parliamentary majority.
President Reuven Rivlin, who is tasked with approving a new government, welcomed Netanyahu’s overture.
“I congratulate you, Mr Prime Minister, on your joining in this call. This is an important call,” Rivlin said in a speech attended by Netanyahu and his key challenger Benny Gantz.
Earlier on Thursday, Netanyahu called on Gantz to join him in a broad, unity coalition after he said that there was no chance he could form a right-wing government after Israel‘s deadlocked election.
With more than 97 percent of the vote counted, the centrist Blue and White party led by Gantz has 33 seats, while Netanyahu’s Likud party is behind with 31.
In a televised appearance, Netanyahu said he had been calling for the creation of a right-wing government but the results of the election proved that will not be possible.
“The people did not fully decide between the two blocs,” Netanyahu said of his and Gantz’s parties.
“Now I call on you, Benny Gantz, we have to create a wide-based unity government today. The people expect from us to be responsible, to cooperate, and that’s why I’m calling on you Benny,” he added.
“Let’s meet today, anytime, to ignite this move.”
There was no immediate response from Gantz or his party spokesperson. However, his office said he is expected to deliver a speech at 2pm (11:00 GMT) on Thursday.
On Wednesday, Gantz said he hoped for a “good, desirable unity government”. But he has also ruled out forming one with a Netanyahu-led Likud, citing looming corruption charges against the prime minister, who denies any wrongdoing.
Akiva Eldar, a columnist for Al-Monitor, said the surprise announcement was another “spin” made by Netanyahu.
“The proof is in yesterday’s gathering of the Likud and the orthodox and the ultra-rights to get from them a clear commitment that they are together and they’re not going to betray or stab him in his back,” Eldar told Al Jazeera.
“This is after he made all the members of the previous Likud faction in the upcoming Knesset to sign the same kind of commitment,” he said.
“And now, what he’s doing is trying to throw the hot potato – so to speak – to Gantz’s court and be the first one to blame Gantz for disagreeing to unity.”
Eldar noted that now, the “red line” is Netanyahu’s immunity. If he is not prime minister, they may agree on a rotation to swap – but that will also mean “political suicide” for Netanyahu while he is not the prime minister.
“This means that Netanyahu can be indicted because a minister doesn’t have immunity,” Eldar noted. “The name of the game is saving Netanyahu from jail – anything else will not work.”
According to the electoral commission, 69.4 percent of eligible voters turned out to vote on Tuesday in Israel’s second general election this year after a lack of a clear mandate in April polls.
The Arab Joint List, an alliance of four smaller parties representing Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, has become the third-largest bloc with 12 seats.
Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu is expected to win nine seats.
In remarks made a day earlier, Netanyahu said he would seek the establishment of a new “Zionist” government that excludes Arab parties.
During his campaign, Netanyahu pledged to annex illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank, and last week promised to “apply Israeli sovereignty to the Jordan Valley and the northern Dead Sea immediately” if he won the election.
Gantz, who made similar pledges in the past, had called for pursuing peace with the Palestinians, and has remained largely silent on the US-sponsored so-called Middle East peace plan – the details of which are expected to be rolled out following the formation of the Israeli government.