The Israeli president met with party leaders Wednesday to determine if any lawmaker can form a government to end an unprecedented era of gridlock after veteran prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed.
Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party finished first in the March 23 election, Israel’s fourth inconclusive vote in less than two years, helping the divisive premier earn a 28-day mandate to negotiate a government.
But that mandate expired at 2100 GMT on Tuesday and Netanyahu informed president Reuven Rivlin he had been unable to secure a majority in the 120-seat parliament.
Netanyahu’s failure further highlighted deep fractures in the Israeli electorate, which spread its support across the political spectrum, including far-right Jewish extremists and a conservative Islamic party.
Rivlin, whose largely ceremonial role has taken on outsized prominence amid the seemingly endless cycle of elections, has voiced doubt any lawmaker could form a government.
But several political experts on Wednesday predicted he would give a chance to opposition leader Yair Lapid, a former television anchor whose centrist Yesh Atid party finished second in the March vote.
Rivlin met Wednesday with Lapid and Naftali Bennett, a religious right-winger who has become a closely-watched kingmaker, despite his Yamina party controlling only seven parliamentary seats.
Bennett was once a Netanyahu ally and served as his defence minister but their relationship has disintegrated.
During Netanyahu’s ongoing corruption trial where the 71-year-old premier is accused of trading regulatory favours with media moguls in exchange for favourable coverage, the court heard testimony about Netanyahu’s alleged obsession with smearing Bennett.
Bennett said Monday that he would have struck a deal with Netanyahu but concluded the prime minister could not clinch a coalition.
Rivlin gave all Knesset factions a 1100 GMT deadline to submit their recommendations for the best choice to form a government.
Lapid held the support of much of the so-called “change” bloc, receiving endorsements from left-wing Labor, centre-left Meretz and from the hawkish but fiercely anti-Netanyahu Yisrael Beitenu party led by Avigdor Lierberman.
Blue and White, led by Defence Minister Benny Gantz, also backed Lapid again.
New Hope, a party of Likud defectors that holds six Knesset seats, endorsed Lapid after abstaining during Rivlin’s last round of consultations, in a possible sign of momentum for the opposition leader.
Likud, its ultra-Orthodox Jewish allies and the far right Religious Zionism faction all asked Rivlin to give the Knesset a 21-day window to nominate a candidate to be prime minister.
The Knesset likely cannot resolve the impasse but failure would force it to dissolve and trigger new elections, creating yet another opportunity for Netanyahu to retain power.
Bennett again endorsed himself for prime minister but all Israeli political watchers are searching for hints of a brewing Lapid-Bennett accord.
Lapid has said that he offered Bennett a rotating prime ministership in which the latter would take first turn, in the interest of agreeing a government that could end Netanyahu’s record 12 straight years in office.
Bennett said Monday that if Netanyahu failed to secure a coalition he would work towards a “unity” government, as his top priority was averting a fifth election in less than three years.
A poll released Wednesday by the Israel Democracy Institute think-tank showed that 70 per cent of Israelis believe the coalition talks will fail and a new vote will be called.
Netanyahu and his allies have flirted with legislation to create a direct vote for prime minister, hoping he would emerge victorious in a divided field, but there is little indication so far that this initiative would get off the ground.
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