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Photo: Amir Levy/Getty Images

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu returned the mandate for forming a government to President Reuven Rivlin on Monday after failing to cobble together enough support for a coalition within the 28-day timeframe that Rivlin had granted.

Why it matters: This is the second time in six months that Netanyahu has failed to form a government after an election. Benny Gantz, leader of the center-left Blue and White party, will now get an opportunity to form a coalition, but he's also unlikely to succeed. The chances are growing that Israel will be forced to hold a third election this year.

Context: After Israel's Sept. 27 election ended in a near tie, both Netanyahu and Gantz were pushed to the negotiating table by Rivlin, who proposed a unity government in which the job of prime minister would rotate.

  • Gantz demanded to be prime minister first because he'd vowed not to serve under Netanyahu while the prime minister faced looming corruption indictments.
  • Netanyahu refused to be second as prime minister due to those indictments. According to the law, Netanyahu would have to resign when indicted if he held a lower post.

What they're saying: In a statement he published after returning the mandate to Rivlin, Netanyahu blamed Gantz for not agreeing to form a unity government. Netanyahu stressed that if Gantz tries to form a minority government with the support of the Arab-Israeli parties, he will fight against him as leader of the opposition.

  • Gantz issued a statement in response calling Netanyahu’s accusations "spin." Gantz said that once he gets the mandate from Rivlin — which will likely happen at the end of the week — he will immediately start negotiating with the different parties to form "a liberal unity government."

The big picture: This is the first time this has happened since October 2008, when Tzipi Livni, then the chairman of the Kadima party, failed to form a coalition and had to return the mandate to then-President Shimon Peres. Since then, Netanyahu has been the only politician to receive the mandate.

  • Netanyahu received the mandate to form a government six times in his long political career. Four times, including in his first term in 1996, he successfully managed to form a government.
  • The main significance of the mandate moving to Gantz is psychological. It breaks the concept that has taken root in the Israeli political system that Netanyahu is a political magician, invincible coalition builder and forever prime minister.

Yes, but: Gantz doesn’t have a 61-member majority in the Knesset yet and will have difficulties forming a coalition. It's likely that in 28 days, Gantz will give the mandate back to Rivlin, who will then have another 21 days to consult with the different factions to try to find a solution. If no solution is reached, Israel will have its third election of the year.

This is breaking news. Please check back for updates.

Go deeper

45 million Americans under winter storm watches near New England

Computer model projection showing the winds moving around the powerful East Coast storm on Saturday Jan. 29, 2022. Image: https://earth.nullschool.net

Nearly 45 million Americans are under winter weather alerts and warnings from North Carolina to northeastern Maine, as a major winter storm threatens the region.

Why it matters: It is predicted to be the biggest blizzard since 2018 to strike the Northeast with more than 2 feet of snow possible in parts of eastern Massachusetts, according to the National Weather Service.

3 hours ago - World

Australian PM pledges $700M for climate change-threatened Great Barrier reef

A green sea turtle is flourishing among the corals at Lady Elliot island in Australia's Great Barrier Reef. Photo: Jonas Gratzer/LightRocket via Getty Images

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced Friday a AU$1 billion ($703 million) investment plan for the Great Barrier Reef.

Why it matters: The nine-year plan for projects including water quality improvement, reef conservation and supporting some 64,000 tourism jobs comes months ahead of this year's federal election. It has been criticized by scientists and environmental groups for failing to tackle climate change.

Judge nixes Gulf of Mexico oil leases in climate-focused ruling

Tug boats prepare to tow the semi-submersible drilling platform Noble Danny Adkins through the Port Aransas Channel into the Gulf of Mexico on December 12, 2020 in Port Aransas, Texas. Photo: Tom Pennington/Getty Images

A federal judge on Thursday canceled the Biden administration's late 2021 sale of new oil-and-gas drilling leases in the Gulf of Mexico.

Why it matters: The ruling that the greenhouse gas emissions analysis by the Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) was insufficient is a win for green groups that challenged the decision, as they seek to curb fossil fuel production.