JERUSALEM: Israel’s president met Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his main opponent Benny Gantz together on Monday as he pressures their two parties to form a unity government after last week’s election.

The key meeting was the first between the rival leaders since the deadlocked vote, the results of which threatened Netanyahu’s long domination of Israeli politics.

But the veteran premier has shown no sign of willingly giving up his post.

President Reuven Rivlin ushered both men into his office in Jerusalem around 8pm after shaking each of their hands.

It was not clear how long the meeting would last, but no major breakthroughs were expected Monday evening since Rivlin is yet to announce who he will choose to try to form a government.

Rivlin called for the meeting after wrapping up consultations with political parties elected to parliament to hear their recommendations for who should form the next government.

Gantz’s centrist Blue and White alliance finished with 33 seats out of 120 in the September 17 elections, while Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud won 31.

Despite Gantz’s slim lead, neither has a clear path to a majority coalition.

Both Netanyahu and Gantz, who had no previous political experience when he mounted his challenge to the premier, have backed calls for a unity government.

Gantz however says he should lead it since his party is the largest. A compromise seems a long way off.

The standoff has even raised the possibility of yet another election — which would be the third in a year after April polls also ended inconclusively with Netanyahu unable to form a governing coalition.

Published in Dawn, September 24th, 2019