Although Benjamin Netanyahu’s rivals in Israel may be relieved that the prime minister failed to form a government after September’s elections, Kachol Lavan Chair Benny Gantz and his followers know very well that putting together a functioning coalition in the time allotted will prove incredibly difficult, if not impossible for them as well. Gantz can pursue multiple routes, but none of them are particularly appealing; some might even undermine his chances of winning the premiership in the near future. Nonetheless, he must at least appear to be making a concentrated effort to achieve some kind of breakthrough, however slim the possibility, if only to give his supporters the impression he isn’t throwing away the opportunity.

Gantz’s most hypothetically stable option — a unity government with his party and Likud at the helm, sharing a rotating premiership with Netanyahu — is also well out of reach. One of Kachol Lavan’s main campaign planks was its commitment to not sit in a government whose leader faces indictment, and there has been plenty of worry within the party ranks since September that Gantz will renege on his promise; this week’s investigation of several of Netanyahu’s aides for allegedly harassing a state’s witness has only hardened the resolve of Kachol Lavan members and supporters to avoid any agreement. Yet Gantz’s caveat about his willingness to sit with the prime minister provided the latter clear his name has been mostly lip service. In reality, he and his colleagues are simply hoping for Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to seal Netanyahu’s fate, thus paving the way for the prime minister’s erstwhile allies to unseat him.

But if the goal has been to scare the rest of Likud into abandoning Netanyahu, it’s so far failed. Murmurings from a handful of hopeful future party leaders like Gideon Sa’ar notwithstanding, Likud MKs, and members of smaller right-wing parties have closed ranks around the prime minister, recently presenting Kachol Lavan with impossible demands in negotiations. And despite his compromised situation, Netanyahu may have more of an advantage in this arena; the prime minister can generally rely on a base of voters to stick with him (even if they aren’t enough to guarantee him an outright win). Despite his broad appeal, Gantz is acutely aware of his neophyte political status, drawing votes from an amorphous Israeli center whose voters routinely abandon politicians if or when they are perceived as failing to deliver on their campaign promises.

Gantz’s next option would be to cobble together a minority government of some sort, but here, his problems may prove even more irreconcilable. The base of such a coalition would ideally include Kachol Lavan, Labor-Gesher, Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu, and the Democratic Union, with members of the Joint List supporting the government from the outside — or simply agreeing not to topple it. In reality, the different constellations necessary to make such an arrangement work are nightmarishly convoluted. Kingmaker Liberman has explicitly stated his refusal to sit in a government with either the Joint List or Democratic Union, reserving most of his ire for the former, which he regards as a perennial fifth column. And in the event that all parties in question came to some kind of modus vivendi, Ta’al leader Ahmad Tibi has indicated that the Joint List would be unable to support such policies as a military campaign in Gaza should the situation arise, adding another layer of uncertainty to what would be already shaky compromise. This is to say nothing of the racist campaign likely to be put out by the prime minister in order to scare his supporters in the hope of portraying Gantz as a self-hating sellout.

The Haredi parties, normally joined at the hip with Netanyahu, have recently voiced their willingness, however tepid, to sit together with Kachol Lavan’s Yair Lapid, an individual they’ve spent the better part of the last decade demonizing as their nemesis. Adding them to Gantz’s potential coalition would still result in a minority government (by one seat), albeit one that would have enough support from parties sitting outside of the coalition to prevent its collapse. But, once again, problems arise when one considers the now-acrimonious relationship between Shas, UTJ, and Liberman. The Yisrael Beiteinu leader has been committed to containing the political influence of Haredi politicians, and much like Kachol Lavan, Liberman’s immediate success is dependent on not deviating wildly from the promises he made on the campaign trail. To spend months pushing for a reassessment of the relationship between religion and state only to sit in a coalition with the very people most responsible for the problems in question will confirm for many skeptics Liberman’s cynicism in promoting political ideas for short-term gain.

If Gantz fails in the time allotted to him, there remain 21 days in which to avoid dissolution of the government and the automatic triggering of another round of elections in which Knesset members can nominate a third candidate. Yet it’s difficult to see how this period will drastically differ from either Netanyahu or Gantz’s initial attempts. Of course, by then, the prime minister’s legal status may have well changed (Mandeblit is likely to make his decision sometime in the next few weeks), leading to more pressure on Likud MKs, but what is more likely to happen is more of the same, with a continuing circling of the wagons around Netanyahu instead of nominating another member of their party. Liberman may also be more inclined to cut his losses but he would still be betraying his constituents and likely wouldn’t relish the idea of having to reinvent himself in a few years with a different gimmick.

Thus, while neither of the largest parties wants to admit it, a third election may really be their preferred choice out of the current deadlock. For Netanyahu, another round is, at best, an additional opportunity to wrest back control of the mandates he lost in September however difficult that may be, or simply more time to kick the ball down the road to avoid having to deal with his likely indictments. The Likud may wager that there is enough time between now and a potential election to sell to the public a narrative emphasizing the prime minister’s supposed persecution by the judicial system and the rise of new security developments to entice voters back into the fold. Conversely, Gantz and his allies may truly believe the prime minister’s days are numbered but that the only way to finally drive him out of his party is to deliver yet another electoral blow. In any case, the next three weeks could simply turn into Kachol Lavan hopelessly going through the motions until its time runs out, in anticipation of the next stage of this stalemate.