Jerusalem CNN  — 

A third Israeli election within 12 months now appears more likely after former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz also failed to form a government.

Gantz returned the mandate to Israel’s President Wednesday evening, a spokesman for his Blue and White party told CNN, after 28 days of negotiations to form a coalition proved unsuccessful.

Following the failure of both Gantz and Netanyahu to form a government, Israel is now in unprecedented political territory. For the first time in the country’s history, Israel now enters a 21-day period where any of the 120 members of Knesset who can muster a majority of 61 signatures can form a government and be Prime Minister.

Earlier Wednesday, political kingmaker Avigdor Liberman refused to back either Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or Gantz, leaving both without the seats necessary to form a coalition.

Former defense minister Liberman blamed both men for their failure to compromise in order to reach a unity government before a midnight Wednesday deadline expires for Gantz to form a government.

“If you ask me who is to blame for the situation? Both parties together – both Blue and White, and Likud,” said Liberman at a meeting of his Yisrael Beitenu party on Wednesday afternoon. “There was a blame game between the two parties, and in the end, it was a blame game without the wherewithal to make dramatic decisions.”

Liberman said he would not support a minority government on either side of the political divide.

“The Arab Joint List party is really a fifth column. We should not hide that,” he said, referring to the parliamentary bloc of Arab parties, which had been touted as possibly supporting a center-left minority government led by Gantz.

And referring to the ultra-Orthodox religious parties, which would be essential in any right-wing government led by Netanyahu, Liberman said, “I am sorry to say that the Haredi parties are more and more becoming anti-Zionist parties – one should not deny that they are anti-Zionist.”

Benny Gantz (right), shakes hands with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) as they attend a state memorial ceremony for former Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem on November 10, 2019.

Liberman suggested changing the political system to overcome the current political deadlock in Israel, but most observers believe that effecting such a change would be extremely difficult without a functioning coalition.

“All that we are seeing at the moment is a sure way to more elections,” said Liberman.

If Gantz fails to form a government by the deadline of midnight Wednesday, the 120 members of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, have three further weeks to put forward another member of Knesset with the backing of a majority of parliamentarians. If no third name emerges, new elections are automatically triggered, to be held three months later, with March 3 currently seen as the most probable date.

Israel has been trapped in a state of political deadlock since the first general election this year, held in April. Netanyahu was tasked with forming a government after that poll but was unable to convince former Defense Minister Liberman to join him, leaving him short of a majority in Parliament. It was the first time in Israel’s history that a political leader had been unable to form a government after an election. But rather than give Gantz the opportunity to try to form a coalition, Netanyahu called a second general election for September.

In the background of all the political maneuverings, are three corruption probes involving Prime Minister Netanyahu. He has maintained his innocence throughout, but a decision from the Attorney General whether to formally indict the Prime Minister could be just days away now. Just what the AG decides is likely to have a big impact on how Israeli politics moves forward.