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Jerusalem – Israel’s former military chief Benny Gantz was tasked Wednesday with forming the next government, but he has few options after last month’s elections left him in a near tie with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Netanyahu was given the first opportunity to form a government after assembling a large right-wing bloc but announced this week that he had failed to build a 61-seat majority. Gantz faces similarly steep odds, raising the possibility that Israel will hold a third election in less than a year.

President Reuven Rivlin formally granted the mandate to Gantz, who will have 28 days to form a coalition. It is the first time in over a decade that anyone besides Netanyahu has been given the task.

Gantz vowed to form a “functioning” unity government that would “strive for peace but know how to defeat every enemy.”

A lifelong military man, Gantz has presented himself as a practical leader who can bridge Israel’s many divisions and address the various security threats it faces. His low-key campaign was in sharp contrast to Netanyahu’s, which was marked by breathless announcements about a suspected Iranian nuclear site and plans to annex large parts of the occupied West Bank.

Gantz also presents himself as a more trustworthy alternative to the scandal-plagued Netanyahu and may hope to evoke past generals who became statesmen, including Moshe Dayan, Yitzhak Rabin and Ariel Sharon.

But he faces steep odds in every possible path to forming a government. He has been endorsed by just 54 lawmakers representing an array of parties that are unlikely to sit together in a coalition.

Both Gantz and Netanyahu say they favor a national unity government. Together, Netanyahu’s Likud and Gantz’s Blue and White control a solid 65-seat majority. But the two men are divided over who should lead any new government.

Netanyahu has insisted he head the government, at least for the first two years, and that it include his right-wing allies, conditions that Gantz has repeatedly rejected.

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