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Israel political crisis deepens as Netanyahu fails to form government by deadline

The long-time prime minister had been attempting to form a unity government to keep his party in power
Bibi and a bypasser
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has failed to form a government in the time allotted after March's election (AFP/File photo)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has failed to form a government by the midnight deadline, which may mark the beginning of the end of his record 12 consecutive years in power. 

Netanyahu was given a month by President Reuven Rivlin in which to form a majority coalition following the results of the 23 March general election - Israel's fourth inconclusive vote in less than two years. 

The prime minister's right-wing Likud Party won 30 seats - the most seats of any one party. But it was not enough to secure a majority in the 120-seat parliament.  

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Given Netanyahu's failure, Rivlin can now take back Netanyahu's mandate and give it to another lawmaker or ask the Knesset to select a candidate to form a government. 

Rivlin could also give Netanyahu an extra two weeks to seek a deal, as he did in April 2020. But with Netanyahu seemingly far from finding the solutions he needs to get to 61 seats, that seems unlikely, say analysts. 

Instead, Yair Lapid, a former television presenter, is a likely candidate, as his centrist Yesh Atid Party finished second in the March vote. 

On Monday, Lapid said that if Netanyahu were to miss his deadline, "We will be faced with two options: an Israeli national unity government, solid, decent and hard-working, or a fifth election." 

Netanyahu's estranged former protege, Naftali Bennett, the leader of the hawkish Yamina Party, is another possible choice for Rivlin's nomination. 

Israeli analyst Meron Rapoport said forecasters had predicted that Bennett and Lapid may form a coalition government with Bennett serving as premier. 

Still, he stressed that it remains anyone's game. 

"The political crisis in Israel continues and we are not even close to a solution. This is a crisis that reflects an even deeper crisis we have in the Israeli right-wing that can't agree on anything," Rapoport told Middle East Eye. 

Either man's leadership would put Netanyahu's Likud Party in Israel's opposition for the first time since 2009. 

If no one else is able to form a government, Rivlin must ask parliament to find a route out of the deadlock. If it cannot, Israelis could be asked to go back to the polls for the fifth time.

Netanyahu's attempts 

Ahead of Tuesday's deadline, 71-year-old Netanyahu attempted to bring together unlikely allies, pressing the Jewish far-right to cooperate with the United Arab List. 

Mansour Abbas, leader of the United Arab List, had said he was willing to work with Netanyahu if the prime minister agreed to improve the living standards for Palestinians living in Israel - some 20 percent of the populace. 

'I asked him to form a government, which, unfortunately, he cannot do'

- Naftali Bennett, Yamina Party 

Israel's right-wing Religious Zionism Party, however, refused to join a government that would be backed by the conservative Palestinian political party. 

Rapoport told MEE that the debate had brought greater transparency to the Israeli right-wing's rejection of Palestinian citizens of Israel and their leadership.

"What's interesting in this crisis is that the question is specifically whether or not to sit with Arabs, it is very clear now," Rapoport told MEE. "In the past, they used the term anti-Zionists for who they could not work with. But now the question is clearly whether they're willing to work with Arabs."

"On that note, the right-wing could not achieve any agreements because they want a Jewish state and that Jewish state can't be supported with Arabs," he said.

On Monday, Netanyahu said he offered Bennett a chance to serve as prime minister ahead of him, in the hope that the right could cling to power. 

Bennett, however, did not seem to be moved by the offer, saying he never asked Netanyahu for the opportunity. 

"I asked him to form a government, which, unfortunately, he cannot do," Bennett said.

As it became more clear his ability to form a coalition was unlikely, Netanyahu also floated the idea of passing legislation that would enable the direct election of a prime minister - an unlikely measure that would have needed 61 Knesset votes. 

Netanyahu's battle to keep a grip on power is a fight not only for his political legacy, but possibly for his freedom too. He is facing corruption charges, which he denies, which could land him in jail if he is found guilty. 

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