Israel’s president has handed Benjamin Netanyahu the chance to assemble a governing coalition, in an attempt to break the deadlock of the second election this year that produced no clear winner.
Reuven Rivlin, the widely respected head of state, has given the incumbent leader a 28-day deadline to try to form a coalition despite the four-time prime minister’s Likud party finishing second in last week’s election.
The president wants to wield his largely ceremonial powers in order to avoid a third vote, as he seeks a unity government between Mr Netanyahu and Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz, a retired military chief turned politician.
But two days of negotiations appear not to have produced a consensus, as Mr Netanyahu’s spokesmen said he had been granted the responsibility of taking the first attempt at cobbling together a coalition.
While Blue and White bested Likud in the vote, neither party has enough coalition allies to pass the 61-seat requirement to form a government. April polls left Mr Netanyahu’s rightwing coalition short by one seat; last Tuesday’s elections left him five seats short.
That number is still ahead of Mr Gantz’s possible coalition scenarios, and probably contributed to Mr Rivlin’s decision to grant Mr Netanyahu the first attempt. A 14-day extension is usually granted before Mr Rivlin can choose another member of parliament to head coalition talks.
Recent negotiations between Likud and Blue and White have stalled on predictable lines — Mr Netanyahu is said to be open to a rotating prime ministership, but only if he is allowed to be prime minister first.
Next week, Mr Netanyahu’s legal team will defend him against possible charges of corruption, fraud and breach of trust in a final hearing with the country’s attorney-general, setting up the possibility of an indictment. Mr Netanyahu has denied all the charges against him.
Blue and White secured 33 seats in the election while Likud won 32 seats. The Joint List of Arab Parties, including Islamists, Communists and Palestinian Nationalists, won 13 seats, but though it has said Mr Gantz should have the first chance to form a government it will not enter a coalition with the former general.
Avigdor Lieberman, the leader of Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel Our Home), won nine seats. He has described the results as a “national emergency”, and repeated his calls for a unity government that would exclude parties that represent the ultraorthodox, a deeply religious Jewish minority, and the extreme rightwing parties that have formed the core of Mr Netanyahu’s coalitions.