Netanyahu fails to form new Israeli government, prolonging deadlock

Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party is by far Israel's largest, but he still could not muster enough coalition partners to command a majority. PHOTO: REUTERS

JERUSALEM (NYTIMES) - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel failed to form a new government by the midnight on Tuesday (May 4) deadline, putting his political future in jeopardy as he stands trial on corruption charges and prolonging a political deadlock that has only worsened after four elections in two years.

Israel's president, Reuven Rivlin, may now give a rival, eclectic camp of anti-Netanyahu parties a chance to form a government, which could oust Netanyahu from power after 12 consecutive years in office.

Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party is by far the largest on Israel's fractured political scene, having won 30 seats in a general election in March. Despite that, he was not able to muster enough coalition partners to command a majority of at least 61 seats in the 120-member Parliament.

His hopes for a right-wing and religious coalition ultimately fell short because his far-right allies refused to join a government supported by a small Islamist Arab party. The Arab party, Raam, was willing to back a Netanyahu administration in return for benefits for Israel's Arab minority.

Netanyahu also failed in a last-gasp effort to persuade a right-wing rival, Naftali Bennett, to join him in a power-sharing agreement that would have seen the pair take turns as prime minister.

Rivlin may now ask one of Netanyahu's rivals - representing a disparate group of parties ranging from the pro-settlement right to the secular left - to try to cobble together a governing coalition. Or Rivlin could ask Parliament to put forward a candidate.

He has three days to make that decision. If no one can form a government, Israel will be heading to a fifth election.

With his failure to build a majority coalition, Netanyahu may have lost his best chance of gaining some kind of legal immunity from criminal prosecution. Charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust, he has denied wrongdoing and insists the cases against him will collapse in court.

The largest party challenging Likud, and the runner-up in the election, is Yesh Atid, a centrist group that won 17 seats. But its leader, Yair Lapid, a former finance minister, does not have an easy path to forming a government either.

The bloc opposing Netanyahu is made up of numerous other small parties with clashing agendas. The smaller right-wing parties in the bloc view Lapid as too left-wing to lead the government.

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