Benny Gantz and Benjamin Netanyahu: summoned for a meeting with President Rivlin Monday night

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin has summoned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his chief rival Benny Gantz to a joint meeting at his official residence Monday night in hopes of brokering a deal that would weld their two closely divided parties into a unity government.

Both politicians quickly agreed. The invitation comes as the country waits for Rivlin to announce which candidate he wants to make the first attempt at forming a government based on results from last week’s national parliamentary elections. Over the last two days, all of the nine parties that won seats have made their formal recommendations to Rivlin, and he could make his pick at any time.

A Israeli Channel 13 reported that  55 members of the Knesset parliament on Monday recommended  Netanyahu, the head of Likud party, to form the next government, compared to fifty-four votes for the opposition Blue and White political alliance, according to media reports.

On Sunday, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin began two-day consultations with elected parties to pick a politician with the best chance of forming a coalition government.

The broadcaster added that Netanyahu got the mandate after the National Democratic Alliance (Balad party), an ally of the Arab Joint List, said it did not support the List’s position to vote for Benny Gantz.

“The only government which can be formed is a broad unity government.

“The only way to reach such a government is to sit down and talk with an open mind,” Netanyahu said on Twitter.

On its turn, the Yisrael Beitenu political party led by former defense chief Avigdor Lieberman refused to support any of the elected candidates.

Rivlin’s  call for a face-to-face meeting led some to hope that a breakthrough is possible, paving the way for a coalition government and avoiding a third election in a year.

“Israelis will feel that if anyone can find a solution, it’s President Rivlin,” said Jason Pearlman, a former media adviser to Rivlin. “He wants to sit them down and let them sort it out.”

Last week’s vote, the second in less than five months, left the two leaders, their parties and their natural ideological blocs nearly equally split. Neither side has the minimum of 61 seats out of Israel’s 120-seat parliament to establish a stable government.

The usual horse trading among factions seeking to join a governing coalition was roiled Sunday when a group of Arab parties agreed to back Gantz. It was the first time in almost three decades that the Arab legislators broke with a long-standing boycott of the Israel’s government-forming process. Leaders of the group, known as the Joint List, said they were motivated by what they view as Netanyahu’s racial incitement against Arab Israelis – roughly 20 percent of the population – during the campaign, painting them as an enemy and a danger to the coun try’s stability.

A new poll found that 3 out of 4 Arab citizens of Israel favor their representatives’ participation in a government coalition. Nearly half of the country’s Jewish citizens oppose Arab participation.

In a tweet Sunday, one of the party’s key leaders, Ahmad Tibi, wrote, “Today history will be made: We’ll do what we need to bring down Netanyahu.”