Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fails to form government on midnight deadline Loading 3rd party ad content Loading 3rd party ad content Loading 3rd party ad content Loading 3rd party ad content

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By Josef Federman

Jerusalem: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has missed a midnight deadline for putting together a new coalition government.

His failure to reach an agreement late Tuesday (Wednesday AEST) raises the possibility that Netanyahu’s Likud party could be pushed into the opposition for the first time in 12 years.

The matter now bounces back to Israel’s figurehead President, Reuven Rivlin, who is expected to consult with leaders of the parties elected to parliament in March before deciding how to proceed.

In this Wednesday, March 24, 2021, file photo, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu waves to his supporters after the first exit poll results for the Israeli parliamentary elections.

In this Wednesday, March 24, 2021, file photo, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu waves to his supporters after the first exit poll results for the Israeli parliamentary elections.Credit:AP

The turmoil does not mean that Netanyahu will immediately be forced out as Prime Minister. But he faces a serious threat to his lengthy rule. His opponents already have been holding informal talks in recent weeks to lay the groundwork for a power-sharing deal.

Netanyahu has struggled to secure a parliamentary majority since March 23 — when elections ended in deadlock for the fourth consecutive time in the past two years. Despite repeated meetings with many of his rivals and unprecedented outreach to the leader of a small Islamist Arab party, Netanyahu has not been able to close a deal during a four-week window.

He suffered a last minute defeat after a key committee failed to hold a vote on his proposal to stage direct elections for the premiership. A main rival, Benny Gantz, said Netanyahu “failed again to form a government. It is now your duty to think of the country, to look honestly at reality and concede your failure”.

Rivlin could give Netanyahu an additional two weeks to form a coalition. He could give one of Netanyahu’s opponents an opportunity to form a government, or in a final move of desperation, send the matter straight to parliament.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin must decide how to break Israel’s political deadlock.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin must decide how to break Israel’s political deadlock. Credit:AFP

That would give lawmakers a chance to choose one of their own as a prime minister. If all options fail, the country would face another election this autumn, its fifth in two years, meaning months of continued political paralysis.

In the March 23 election, Netanyahu’s Likud emerged as the largest single party, with 30 seats in the 120-member parliament. But to form a government, he needed to have the support of a 61-seat majority.

That task has been complicated in large part by members of his own religious and nationalist base.

The New Hope party, led by a former Netanyahu aide, refuses to serve under the prime minister because of deep personal differences. Religious Zionism, a far-right party that espouses an openly racist platform, supports Netanyahu but has ruled out serving in a government with the Arab partners he has courted. Yamina, another right-wing party led by a former Netanyahu aide, has refused to commit to either him or his opponents.

On Monday, Netanyahu said he had offered the head of Yamina, Naftali Bennett, the chance to share the job of prime minister in a rotation, with Bennett holding the post for the first year.

Bennett responded: “I never asked Netanyahu to be prime minister. I asked to form a government. Unfortunately, he does not have that.”

Netanyahu’s future is threatened by his ongoing corruption trial. He has been charged with fraud, breach of trust and bribery in a series of scandals. The trial has moved into the witness phase, with embarrassing testimony accusing him of trading favours with a powerful media mogul. Netanyahu denies the charges.

Despite all of Netanyahu’s vulnerabilities, it remains unclear whether his opponents can form an alternative government. The opposition includes a vast spectrum of parties that have little in common except for their animosity toward Netanyahu.

AP

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