The Joint List, which is the Arab-led bloc in Israel's parliament, broke with tradition Sunday and endorsed Blue and White party chairman Benny Gantz for prime minister, giving him an edge for the job over incumbent Benjamin Netanyahu.
The historic endorsement highlighted the first day of President Reuven Rivlin's crucial consultations with various party representatives. He's set to meet with all the parliamentary factions before selecting his candidate for prime minister, after a deadlocked repeat election made forming any new government a daunting task.
Israel's largely ceremonial president is responsible for picking the politician with the best chance of forming a stable coalition government. While usually a formality, this time Rivlin plays a key role after a repeat election held last week. In that vote, neither of the top candidates appeared to secure the support of a majority of 61 members of the 120-seat parliament.
The Joint List emerged from the election as the third largest party with 13 seats due to increased turnout. No party drawn from the 21% Arab minority has ever been part of an Israeli government.
This would provide an outlet to voice Arab complaints of discrimination in Israeli society and give a bigger platform to Arab parties which differ markedly with those drawn from the country's Jewish majority on many political issues.
"We want to bring an end to the era of Netanyahu, so we recommend that Benny Gantz be the one to form the next government," party head Ayman Odeh told Rivlin Sunday.
"Gantz is not our cup of tea. We have criticism of him from here till tomorrow," said lawmaker Ahmad Tibi. "But we promised our constituents that we would do everything to topple Netanyahu and the default here is recommending Benny Gantz."
Maverick politician Avigdor Lieberman, head of the mid-sized Yisrael Beitenu party, remains the key power broker. He hasn't endorsed either candidate, so with the nod from the Arab parties, Gantz expects to have 57 backers to Netanyahu's 55.
The president will usually appoint the candidate with the greatest number of supporters, but not necessarily. Given the unprecedented nature of this election and the tricky arithmetic involved, Rivlin has wide discretion at his disposal in making his pick.