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.

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