Israel's Netanyahu fails to form new government by deadline

Rivals now face major hurdles to build coalition before fifth election is necessary

For the past four weeks, Mr Netanyahu unsuccessfully toiled to woo rivals into an alliance and drive wedges within the opposition. Reuters
For the past four weeks, Mr Netanyahu unsuccessfully toiled to woo rivals into an alliance and drive wedges within the opposition. Reuters

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to form a government by midnight on Tuesday, giving rivals a chance to join forces and remove him or send the country to a fifth election in slightly more than two years.

The March 23 election gave neither Mr Netanyahu nor his opponents a clear path to build a coalition.

President Reuven Rivlin offered the prime minister, who is facing trial in three corruption cases, the first attempt last month after members of Parliament nominated him.

For the past four weeks, Mr Netanyahu unsuccessfully tried to talk rivals into an alliance and drive wedges in the opposition but right before midnight he returned the mandate to Mr Rivlin.

The political turmoil comes as tension is rising with Iran and its proxies, and high unemployment has not been abated by an aggressive coronavirus vaccination campaign.

Mr Rivlin now has three days to nominate the head of another party to try to build a governing coalition, or ask Parliament to choose one of its members, even Mr Netanyahu.

Leading contenders for the first option appear to be former finance minister Yair Lapid, whose centrist Yesh Atid party is Parliament’s second largest, and former defence minister Naftali Bennett.

Mr Bennett, head of the mainly religious nationalist Yamina party, has not ruled out sitting with Mr Netanyahu. His support is necessary for any government.

Opposition parties want to topple Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, whose attempts to stop his corruption trial have been closely linked to Israel’s political tumult.

But different agendas and personal ambitions could make it hard for them to form partnerships in government.

The rivals are a mix of religious, secular, Zionist and anti-Zionist politicians, as well as opponents and proponents of Palestinian statehood.

It includes Arab parties, which historically have not joined Zionist-led governments but could agree to support a minority coalition in votes.

Throughout this election cycle, Mr Netanyahu has had the option of stepping aside to let someone else lead his Likud party’s ticket, which could have allowed for a government to be formed long ago.

But staying in power is Mr Netanyahu’s only hope to stop his trial, giving him the chance to pass laws protecting incumbent leaders from prosecution.

Mr Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing and maintains he is the victim of a political witch hunt.

Updated: May 5, 2021 07:36 AM

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