The decision by Joint List Chairman Ayman Odeh on Sunday to formally recommend Benny Gantz to lead the next Israeli government was an historic one, widely compared to the choice by the leaders of Hadash and the Arab Democratic Party to back Yitzhak Rabin in 1992. Like clockwork, the Likud Party attacked Gantz for working with Arabs. Avigdor Liberman, whose support Gantz needs if he is to have any chance of leading a unity government, fired an ugly warning shot by referring to Odeh and his MKs as “enemies.”

The irony in the backlash is that Odeh leads Hadash, the core of which is the Israeli Communist Party or Maki. The Joint List does contain real Arab parties – Ta’al, the United Arab List, and Balad – but it is inaccurate to describe Hadash as such; formally it is an Arab-Jewish Marxist party that approves of the two-state solution. It has an important history as a supporting but excluded actor in Israeli politics, one which Odeh is set to reprise if Gantz is ultimately successful in securing the premiership.

If you examine Israel’s Declaration of Independence, you will notice the signature of one Meir Wilner, the co-founder of Maki. While some of Maki’s Arab members were not enthused by his decision to sign, they largely followed the Soviet Union’s diktat to support recognition of the Jewish state. Yet having their most prominent leader’s name on the country’s founding document was not enough to include them in the political mainstream. Indeed, one of David Ben-Gurion’s iron laws of politics was to always form a coalition “without Herut and without Maki.” To Ben-Gurion, the non-Zionist Wilner and the communists were as anathema as Menachem Begin (leader of Herut and, later, Likud), a man he denounced on several occasions as a fascist and worse. Then as now, Maki was good enough to help set the table but not quite patriotic enough to sit at it.

In order to successfully assume the premiership, Gantz will need to somehow balance support from both Herut and Maki. To receive the first chance to form a coalition, Gantz must receive the support of the Joint List, which he has; in order to form a government, he will need to form a unity coalition with Likud. No other stable alternative exists. If unity cannot be achieved and neither Liberman nor the ultra-Orthodox parties blink on their demands, we are likely headed to a third election.

If the goal is unity with the Likud, the main obstacle that stands in Gantz’s way is the Likud’s leader. Benjamin Netanyahu is a diminished figure, reduced to pathetically complaining about Gantz’s supposed unwillingness to meet with him and delegitimizing the Kachol Lavan leader because of the support he has received from the Joint List. Nevertheless, he is a formidable one with tight control over his own party. He will not simply walk into a coalition in which he is not prime minister, especially since Israeli law would require him to resign in the likely event he is indicted (the law does not cover the prime minister).

According to a report in YNet, there is a heated debate inside Kachol Lavan on whether it is best to take the mandate from Rivlin now or wait until Netanyahu fails to form a coalition and take it from there. In truth, they may not have a choice at all if President Reuven Rivlin decides Gantz is most able to lead the government, but there is some logic to the idea. If Kachol Lavan holds strong in its pledge not to support Netanyahu as prime minister, they will in all likelihood eventually get their shot because Netanyahu no longer has a majority to dissolve the Knesset.

However, by not seizing the opportunity to form a government on the first try, Gantz risks a surprise rapprochement on the right; Liberman has managed to reconcile his differences with the ultra-Orthodox before and could do so again. It bears reminding that the military draft law at the heart of the disagreement is a compromise proposal that more moderate ultra-Orthodox political figures are more or less ready to accept. Amidst the euphoria of Netanyahu’s apparent defeat, we should not forget that right-wing and religious parties hold a 63-57 majority in the Knesset. It is only because Liberman’s Yisrael Beteinu party has been removed from the tally of right-wing parties and now sits in a category of its own that Gantz is now the slight favorite to become prime minister. Those advising Gantz to go second are being “too clever by half,” as Chemi Shalev put it.

The calendar is not on Netanyahu’s side and Gantz has no reason to overthink his situation. He should pursue the first chance to form a coalition. Netanyahu’s indictment hearing begins on October 2, and the formal indictment is probably only eight or nine more weeks away. If Gantz fails on his first attempt after 28 days and a customary 14 day extension, Netanyahu will assume the mandate with an even darker cloud over his head.

Unless it’s prematurely dissolved, the Knesset that was just elected could sit until December 28 without a majority government in place. If Netanyahu insists on accepting nothing less than the premiership and the premiership now, despite not receiving a mandate from the Israeli public, Likud MKs will have to decide if they want to head into a third election campaign with a part-time leader who is out of tricks and nearly out of time.