Benjamin Netanyahu's grip on power slipped further last night after Israel's Arab minority party threw its support behind his rival Benny Gantz, virtually guaranteeing the Blue and White party leader will get the first chance to form a government.
The decision by the Joint List, which mainly represents Israel's two million Palestinian citizens, is the first time since 1992 that an Arab party has endorsed a Jewish candidate to be prime minister.
Ayman Odeh, the Joint List leader, said he was backing Mr Gantz. "This will be the most significant step toward helping create the majority needed to prevent another term for Mr Netanyahu. And it should be the end of his political career," Mr Odeh said.
Mr Netanyahu's Likud party put out a furious statement in response: "As we warned, the Arab parties that oppose Israel as a Jewish and democratic state and glorify terrorists recommended Gantz for prime minister."
The support of the Joint List means that Reuven Rivlin, Israel's president, will almost certainly allow Mr Gantz the first chance to form a coalition government. It will be the first time since 2009 that anyone other than Mr Netanyahu has been given the task.
But that does not mean Mr Gantz, a former army general, will necessarily succeed in cobbling together a majority. He says he hopes to form a national unity government with Likud but only if Mr Netanyahu, who is facing criminal corruption charges, agrees to resign.
Mr Netanyahu is refusing to budge and so far his Likud ministers are remaining loyal to him. If Mr Gantz is unable to form a government within 42 days, then Mr Netanyahu will get another chance to take up the task.
If neither man is successful, Israel could be plunged into an unprecedented third election within a year.
While the Joint List is backing Mr Gantz to be prime minister, the party says it will not actually join a potential Gantz government, nor add its 13 seats towards his majority.
Avigdor Lieberman, the leader of the secular nationalist party Yisrael Beiteinu, which holds the balance between pro- and anti-Netanyahu parties in Parliament, said he would not back either Mr Gantz or Mr Netanyahu yet.
Mr Lieberman, who has a history of incendiary rhetoric towards Palestinians, said he could not support Mr Gantz if the Arabs were supporting him. "They're enemies. Wherever they sit, we'll be on the other side," he said.
That leaves Mr Gantz with a perilously narrow path to form a majority government without joining up with Likud. (© Daily Telegraph, London)