Seconds before the deadline, a statement by the Prime Minister’s party, Likud, announced that it had handed over the mandate to form a new government to President Reuven Rivlin.
It is now up to the President to decide which other political leaders in Israel he might give the task of trying to form a governing coalition, or follow a different path to achieve a breakthrough.
Lapid is a former finance minister who entered politics in 2012 after a successful career as a television news anchor.
But even if Lapid receives the mandate, the key man in the coalition negotiations is expected to be Naftali Bennett, former defense minister and leader of the right-wing Yamina party.
Even though his party won just seven seats in the 120-seat Knesset, Bennett finds himself in the extraordinary position of being offered the post of prime minister by both Netanyahu and Lapid, who have all won him the post of prime minister. two proposed a rotation system and said he could go first. .
So far Bennett has said he prefers a right-wing administration, but he hasn’t ruled out a unity government straddling a wide range of right-to-left parties.
Asked by CNN about how quickly such a unity government could be formed if Lapid was given the mandate, an individual familiar with the negotiations said: “As fast as Bennett wants”.
“There’s no reason it can’t happen in a week if he decides he’s going,” the individual added.
Another person familiar with the negotiations told CNN that Bennett must allow Netanyahu’s term to expire unsuccessfully in order to show that a right-wing government is not possible.
“He cannot be blamed for this,” said the second individual.
Benny Gantz, the current Israeli Minister of Defense, on Tuesday evening appealed to his predecessor not to hesitate.
“Naftali Bennet, I know you are a person of values. I know that Israel is important to you … You must announce today that you are joining a pro-change government and that you support the presidential mandate given to MK Yair Lapid … You are a person of values. Don’t let Netanyahu trample you, “Gantz said.
The Israeli prime minister also made a last-minute appeal for Bennett’s values as the term of office approached, releasing an excerpt from the Yamina leader’s election campaign stating that he would not support a government with Yair Lapid, and declaring: “I am a right winger and that [would] contradict my values. And for me, values matter. ”
“Naftali, prove that you are still a right winger,” Netanyahu’s tweet implored.
Israel’s fourth election in less than two years, like the previous three, was seen above all as a referendum on Israel’s longest-serving ruler.
Netanyahu has been on trial since last May for corruption, fraud and breach of trust.
He denies the accusations and has used them as a rallying cry for his right-wing base, describing the procedure as a witch hunt by liberal elites and the media.
But his campaign was not enough to prevent another parliament from stalemate, prompting the Israeli leader to attempt to round up unlikely bedfellows in his efforts to stay in power.
His hopes were dashed when the far-right religious Zionist party refused to be part of any government supported by the Joint List, an Islamist party that had itself innovated by making it clear it could support a government. headed by the Prime Minister. Minister Netanyahu.
With the mandate now back in his hands, the President must again consult the parties on Wednesday before deciding on his next decision, expected in the coming days.
Instead of handing it over to an individual, he could choose to hand over the mandate to parliament, effectively inviting any parliamentarian to come back to him as the head of a 61-seat majority.
Until a new government is agreed and sworn in, Benjamin Netanyahu remains the prime minister of Israel.