Netanyahu appeals to direct rival to form unity government as prospect of third election looms

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appealed to his direct rival to form a unity government as the country’s two main political parties remained deadlocked at the end of an unprecedented second election, with the prospect of a third looming Thursday.

Netanyahu’s conservative Likud party and rival Benny Gantz’s centrist Blue and White party failed to win enough votes in the repeat election to form a coalition government of at least 61 seats in Israel’s 120-seat parliament.

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With nearly all votes counted Thursday, Netanyahu’s Likud stood at 31 seats and Gantz’s Blue and White held 33 seats.

"Throughout the campaign, I called for a right-wing government, but unfortunately the election results show that's not possible," Netanyahu said in a video statement Thursday. "Therefore there is no choice but to form a broad unity government."

"We cannot and there is no reason to go to third elections," he added.

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There was no immediate response from Blue and White. However, a source in the campaign told local media the party viewed the plea as a PR stunt, BBC News reported.

Gantz, a former army chief, has previously pledged not to sit in the same government as Netanyahu, who may face indictment in a slew of corruption scandals, including bribery, breach of trust and fraud. Netanyahu, the longest-serving leader in Israeli history, has denied the allegations as he seeks a fourth consecutive term.

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Neither party will be able to form a majority without support from Avigdor Lieberman, of the nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party. His insistence on a secular government would force out Netanyahu's traditional allies, the country's two ultra-Orthodox parties, and another nationalist-religious party.

Meanwhile, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin welcomed Netanyahu’s appeal as an “important call” ahead of his consultations with all parties in the coming days to pick the candidate he believes has the best chance of forming a stable government, BBC News reported.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.