In Israel, Countdown Begins on Efforts to Forge a Power-Sharing Deal

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JERUSALEM — President Reuven Rivlin of Israel was scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his chief opponent, Benny Gantz, on Wednesday to assess their chances of forging a power-sharing agreement after the official results of the country’s inconclusive election were finalized.

Mr. Rivlin has a week to nominate a prime minister-elect who will get the first chance at trying to form a viable coalition, though he could make a choice sooner.

The final results released by the Central Elections Committee on Wednesday amended the preliminary count and gave Mr. Netanyahu’s conservative Likud party an extra parliamentary seat, raising its representation from 31 to 32. Mr. Gantz’s centrist Blue and White party has 33.

But the adjustment did nothing to break the political deadlock caused by the outcome of the Sept. 17 election, Israel’s second in five months.

That has thrust Mr. Rivlin, the president, into the spotlight. He has urged Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Gantz to try to form a government of national unity including both their parties, saying that such an outcome was what the election results demanded and that it would extricate Israel from the political stalemate, avoiding a possible third vote.

“On the one hand, these elections demonstrated our vibrant democracy, but on the other, highlighted the division between us,” Mr. Rivlin told foreign diplomats on Wednesday at a reception to mark the Jewish New Year. “Now we must ask ourselves: How can we learn from the past? How can we heal the divisions of the present? And how can we build a shared future?”

Though the Israeli presidency is a mostly ceremonial role, Mr. Rivlin gets to choose who will get the first shot at forming a government. That privilege traditionally goes to the candidate who heads either the largest party or the largest bloc.

With the sides essentially tied, Mr. Rivlin can use his discretion based on who he thinks has the best chance of forming a coalition. If Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Gantz came to an agreement on their own, Mr. Rivlin would go along with that.

Though Blue and White edged ahead of Likud, Mr. Netanyahu’s broader right-wing, religious bloc of allied parties ended up slightly stronger than Mr. Gantz’s center-left bloc, with 55 seats to 54.

With one hard-line but secular party, Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu, still refusing to back either candidate, neither group commands enough support to create a coalition with a majority in the 120-seat Parliament.

Negotiators from Blue and White and from Likud met for the first time on Tuesday, under pressure from Mr. Rivlin. Little was revealed, but what was did not sound propitious. In brief statements after the talks, both sides noted an early sticking point.

The top Likud negotiator, Yariv Levin, said that he was representing all 55 members of the right-wing, religious bloc. But Blue and White’s negotiator, Yoram Turbowicz, countered that from his perspective, Mr. Levin was only representing Likud and Mr. Netanyahu.

Another major sticking point in reaching a unity agreement will be who would serve first as prime minister in any rotation arrangement. In a similar situation in the 1980s, President Chaim Herzog successfully brokered a unity government agreement between Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Shamir, according to which Mr. Peres served the first two years as prime minister and Mr. Shamir the following two. The negotiations took a month.

The current situation is muddied because Mr. Netanyahu is facing an indictment in three corruption cases and could soon be charged. If that happened, he would be able to stay in office only if he were prime minister. In a lesser role, such as an ordinary minister in the government, he would have to resign if charged.

A prime minister-elect has 28 days to try to put together a coalition, with the president able to grant a discretionary 14-day extension. In the case of failure, the mantle is passed to another candidate.

After the April election, Mr. Netanyahu emerged in a stronger position than Mr. Gantz, but ultimately, after Mr. Liberman abandoned him, he could only muster the support of 60 lawmakers, one short of the required 61. Instead of allowing Mr. Gantz an opportunity to try to form a coalition, Mr. Netanyahu moved swiftly to dissolve Parliament, forcing a do-over vote.

Analysts have been parsing the pros and cons of being the first to be appointed with the task of forming a government, suggesting that Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Gantz might each prefer the other to try first in the hope that any such effort would fail. Under that line of thinking, it might be easier on a second time around to persuade potential partners or defectors from other parties to cooperate to prevent a third election.

But there is also risk involved.

“If you go first you can use all the tools and be the first to try everything,” said Gideon Rahat, a political scientist at the Israel Democracy Institute and at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Going second means sitting and waiting, he noted.

“It’s a very dangerous game,” he said.

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