Jerusalem (AP) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to meet the midnight deadline for forming a new governing coalition on Tuesday, raising the possibility of pushing his Likud party into opposition for the first time in 12 years.
The deadline ended the four-week period given to Netanyahu by the excellent president of Israel. The case now bounces back to President Reuven Rivlin, who announced shortly after midnight that he would contact 13 parties in parliament on Wednesday to discuss “continuing the process of forming a government”.
Rivlin is expected to give an opportunity to one of Netanyahu’s opponents in the coming days to form an alternative coalition government. You can also ask parliament to elect your own member as prime minister. If all else fails, the country will be forced to run again in the fall – the fifth in just over two years.
The turmoil does not mean that Netanyahu will be immediately ousted as prime minister. But now he faces a serious threat to his protracted domination as his corruption trial swings to a high degree. Despite deep ideological differences, his opponents have been holding informal talks in recent weeks in hopes of concluding a power-sharing agreement.
Netanyahu has been fighting for a parliamentary majority since March 23 – when the election came to a standstill for the fourth consecutive year in two years. Despite meeting several of his rivals several times and informing the leader of a small Islamist Arab party in a way he had never seen before, Netanyahu could not reach an agreement.
Rivlin gave Netanyahu the first chance to join the coalition after 52 MPs approved him as prime minister last month. That was little from the majority, but the highest among the party leaders.
Opposition leader Yair Lapid, who has received the support of 45 lawmakers, appears to be the most likely candidate to get a chance to form a government.
Naftali Bennett, the leader of the small religious, nationalist Yamina party, is also an option. Bennett, who became a rival to Netanyahu’s former ally, holds only seven seats in parliament, but he has acted as a kind of king-creator, and he appears to carry the votes that Lapid would need to gain a parliamentary majority.
Lapid has already said he is ready to share the prime minister’s work with Bennett, and Bennett will serve in rotation for the first time. So far no firm agreement has been reached.
In a brief statement, Netanyahu’s Likud party blamed Bennett for the prime minister’s failure.
“As Bennett refused to commit to a right-wing government, which would certainly have led to the formation of a government along with other members of the Knesset, Prime Minister Netanyahu returned the mandate to the president,” the statement said.
Defense Secretary Benny Gantz, the leader of the centrist Blue-White Party, called on Netanyahu’s opponents to stand up behind Lapid.
“The Israeli people followed one blow after another: epidemic, unemployment, ugly politics, loss of faith in the leadership and deep polarization,” he said. “It can be solved within hours. It is our duty to form a government as soon as possible for the benefit of the State of Israel and all its citizens. “
Netanyahu has become a divisive figure in Israeli politics, with the last four elections all seen as a referendum on domination. He remained desperate in his office until he went to court, with which he harassed prosecutors and sought possible immunity from prosecution.
Most of his struggles stemmed from obstacles created by his former allies in his own religious and nationalist base.
The New Hope Party, led by a former Netanyahu aide, refused to serve under the prime minister due to deep personal disagreements. Religious Zionism, an far-right party that openly represents a racist platform, supported Netanyahu but ruled out serving in a government with the Arab partners it courted.
Bennett, who had a tense relationship with Netanyahu, could not agree with his former mentor.
Hovering over Netanyahu was a corruption lawsuit. Netanyahu has been accused of fraud, breach of trust and bribery in a series of scandals. The trial entered the witness phase, accusing him of embarrassing confessions of trading favors with a strong media magnet. Netanyahu denies the allegations.
In recent weeks, Netanyahu seemed increasingly frustrated, coding potential partners one day and tying them up with vitriol the next.
Last week’s deadly misery at a religious festival at which 45 ultrortodox Jews were killed only complicated his task by provoking an unwanted diversion and demanding an official investigation into the possible negligence of his watch.
Netanyahu also suffered a series of embarrassing – and uncharacteristic – defeats in parliament. On Tuesday, Likud was unable to pursue a proposal calling for the direct election of the prime minister. Opponents have made the measure a desperate attempt by Netanyahu to find a new way to retain power.
Despite all of Netanyahu’s vulnerabilities, it is still unclear whether his opponents will be able to form an alternative government.
The opposition includes a large number of parties that have little in common except for their hostility to Netanyahu. He is expected to do everything in the coming weeks to prevent his opponents from concluding the deal.
If he fails, he will remain in office until the next election. This would give him several months to deal with allegations of corruption in the seats of the Prime Minister’s Office and give him another chance to win a new term, with possible immunity.
Ilan Ben Zion, author of the Associated Press, contributed to this report.