Benjamin Netanyahu tasked with forming a government

He will now have to break a post-election deadlock that has paralysed the country’s political system

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrive to a nomination ceremony at the president's residency in Jerusalem September 25, 2019. Reuters
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrive to a nomination ceremony at the president's residency in Jerusalem September 25, 2019. Reuters

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu began the daunting task of trying to cobble together a coalition government on Thursday amid political deadlock that emerged from this month’s repeat elections, which had no clear winner.

He now has up to six weeks to attempt to resolve the political impasse, but his odds appear slim. Even with the support of smaller allies, both Mr Netanyahu and his main challenger, Blue and White party leader and former army chief Benny Gantz, lack the support for the required 61-seat parliamentary majority needed to establish a government. That’s including the support of Mr Netanyahu’s traditional ultra-Orthodox and religious-nationalist allies.

On Thursday, the two largest parties were jockeying ahead of a planned meeting by their negotiating teams the following day, with each side blaming the other for the stalemate.

“There are no rabbits in the hat. There are no tricks. There is no option” other than unity, said Zeev Elkin, a lawmaker with Mr Netanyahu’s Likud party. He told Israeli Army Radio that if Blue and White “continues to rule out Mr Netanyahu on a personal basis and continues to rule out certain parties from sitting in that same unity government, at the end we may head to elections for a third time".

Blue and White wants Mr Gantz to lead any unity government and refuses to sit in a coalition with Mr Netanyahu so long as he faces likely indictment for a series of corruption scandals. Blue and White also objects to sitting with the right-wing and religious bloc that Mr Netanyahu says he’s committed to bringing into any government he forms.

Mr Netanyahu denied wrongdoing and called on Israel’s attorney general to have the hearing broadcast live for the sake of “transparency”.

“After three years of a deluge of biased, partial leaks, it’s time for the public to hear everything. My side too,” Mr Netanyahu said in a video statement. “Not only do I have nothing to hide, I want everything to be heard.”

Mr Gantz dug in his heels, repeating his objection to sitting with Mr Netanyahu. He called on Likud to negotiate “with no preconditions” to avoid a third election.

Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin on Wednesday asked Mr Netanyahu to form a new government. After a divisive campaign, he called for a “broad unity government” with Mr Gantz. But he faces an uphill struggle, with his future clouded by a likely corruption indictment and his opponents opposed to sitting with him.

Standing alongside Mr Rivlin, Mr Netanyahu said it was clear that neither his Likud party nor Mr Gantz’s Blue and White could put together a coalition on its own, and that the only option was to band together.

“The two of us cannot form a government unless we are together,” he said. “The order of the moment is a unity government, a broad national unity government that is formed quickly.”

He said the country faced great security challenges, highlighted by Iran, economic challenges and the “great opportunity” of settling its borders when President Donald Trump presents an expected Mideast peace plan.

Updated: September 26, 2019 05:51 PM

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