JERUSALEM – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faced Tuesday’s midnight deadline to put together a new coalition government – or is looking likely to lead his Likud party in opposition for the first time in 12 years.
Netanyahu has struggled to gain a parliamentary majority since March 23 – when the deadlock ended for the fourth time in the past two years. Despite holding repeated meetings with several of his rivals and leading an unprecedented outing to the leader of a small Islamic Arab party, Netanyahu has not been able to close a deal during the four-week window.
That window was to close at midnight, when the matter was returned to President Ryuven Rivlin in the absence of an agreement.
Failure to reach a deal will not push Netanyahu out of office immediately.
Rivlin may give them an additional two weeks to form an alliance. He could give one of Netanyahu’s opponents a chance to form the government, or in the final stages of desperation, send the matter directly to Parliament.
This will give MPs a chance to elect their own as Prime Minister. If all options fail, the country will face another election in this election, which means political paralysis that has been going on for months.
In the March 23 election, Netanyahu’s Likud emerged as the single largest party with 30 seats in the 120-member parliament. But it needs the support of a majority of 61 seats to form the government.
That work has been massively complicated by members of its own religious and nationalist base.
The New Hope Party, led by a former Netanyahu ally, refused to serve the Prime Minister due to deep personal differences. Religious Zionism, a far-right party that openly spies racist platform, supports Netanyahu but has refused to serve with Arab allies in the government. Yamina, another right-wing party led by another Netanyahu ally, has refused to commit to him or his opponents.
On Monday, Netanyahu said he offered Yamina’s chief, Neftley Bennett, a chance to share the prime minister’s job in a rotation Bennett held for the first year.
Bennett replied: “I never asked Netanyahu to be Prime Minister. I asked to form the government. Unfortunately, he does not have this. “
Dominating Netanyahu is his ongoing corruption trial. Netanyahu has been charged with fraud, breach of trust and bribery in a series of scandals. The trial went into the witness phase, with the testimony being embarrassing, accusing it of favoring business with a powerful media mogul. Netanyahu denied the allegations.
In recent times, he appeared increasingly frustrated, coding for potential partners one day and then kicking them out the next day with Vitriol. The murderous rampage in a religious celebration last week, in which 45 ultra-orthodox Jews were killed, has only complicated their work by making an unpleasant turn and called for an official investigation into possible negligence on their watch.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu’s opponents have held their own meetings in an effort to bring together a possible alternative government.
Netanyahu has also faced a series of embarrassing – and undeniable – defeats in Parliament.
Earlier this month his opponents regained control of the powerful Arrangement Committee, which controls the legislative agenda until a new government is formed. Last week, he was forced to relinquish his appointment of a crony as interim justice minister, before the Supreme Court determined to strike the move.
Despite all of Netanyahu’s weaknesses, it is unclear whether his opponents can form an alternative government. The opposition comprises a vast spectrum of parties which is generally very low except for its enmity towards Netanyahu.
If Netanyahu fails to make an alliance together by midnight, he will do his best to prevent his opponents from reaching an agreement in the coming weeks.
He would hold her in office until the next election, allowing her to fight the corruption charges of the Prime Minister’s Office, and possible immunity from prosecution, as well as giving her another chance to win a new term.
Joseph Federman, The Associated Press