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Israeli parties race to sign up politicians for chance to break government deadlock

The first party to get 61 signatures from MPs will be given chance to form a government
Benny Gantz (centre left) and Benjamin Netanyahu (centre right) are racing for support to become prime minister (AFP)

A race is on between Israel's two leading political parties to gather signatures from MPs endorsing them to form a new government, or face the third election in less than a year. 

Sunday's race to find 61 signatures appeared to be set off by former minister Avigdor Lieberman, who has been courted by both sides throughout the protracted election process, reportedly saying he is willing to sign for either side. 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud and opposition leader Benny Gantz's Blue and White party have until 11 December to get the signatures to win the right to attempt to form a governing coalition. 

Both Netanyahu and Gantz have already failed to build coalitions since September's election when Lieberman demanded a national unity government, but a third opportunity may be available to one of the two if they can meet the deadline. 

Netanyahu goes into this latest battle weakened, however, after being indicted on 21 November for corruption charges after a years-long police investigation. 

The most recent poll by the Israel Democracy Institute said 59 percent of Israelis want Netanyahu to step down after his indictment. According to the same poll, the large majority of Israelis believe the country is headed for new elections. 

The right-wing newspaper Israel Hayom reported on Sunday that several MPs from the right have refused to sign the letter endorsing Netanyahu to form a government. 

The idea that Lieberman would sign for either party could also potentially have been a false alarm, according to the Jerusalem Post, which reported that he has since backtracked to his initial position demanding a unity government. 

On Friday Lieberman wrote on Facebook his list of demands, which were largely focused on his battle with Ultra-Orthodox Jews. Lieberman's secular party wants to ensure Ultra-Orthodox Jews are conscripted for national service and is also fighting a proposed bill that would close shops during the Jewish sabbath. 

Lieberman's party won eight seats in the vote on 17 September, finishing in fourth behind Netanyahu's Likud, Gantz's Blue and White alliance and the Arab Joint List, a coalition of parties representing Palestinian citizens of Israel.

Gantz was the first person in a decade other than Netanyahu to be tasked with forming an Israeli government.