JERUSALEM (AP) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday faced a midnight deadline to form a new coalition government – or look at the possibility of leading his Likud party into opposition for the first time in 12 years.
Netanyahu has been fighting to secure a parliamentary majority since March 23 – when the election ended in stalemate for the fourth time in a row in the last two years. Despite repeated encounters with many of his rivals and unprecedented reach for the leader of a small Islamist Arab party, Netanyahu has not been able to close a deal within a four-week window.
The window was to expire at midnight, after which the case returns to President Reuven Rivlin in the absence of an agreement.
Failure to reach an agreement would not immediately push Netanyahu out of office.
Rivlin could give him another two weeks to form a coalition. He could give one of Netanyahu̵
It would allow lawmakers to elect one of them as prime minister. If all options fail, the country will face another election in the autumn, which means months of continued political paralysis.
In the election on March 23, Netanyahu’s Likud emerged as the largest single party with 30 seats in parliament with 120 members. But to form a government, he needs the support of a 61-seat majority.
This task has largely been complicated by members of his own religious and nationalist base.
The New Hope party, led by a former Netanyahu aide, refuses to serve under the prime minister because of deep personal differences. Religious Zionism, a far-right party that supports an overtly racist platform, supports Netanyahu but has ruled out serving in a government with the Arab partners he has heard about. Yamina, another right-wing party led by a former Netanyahu aide, has refused to commit to him or his opponents.
On Monday, Netanyahu said he had offered Yamina’s leader, Naftali Bennett, the chance to share the job as prime minister in a rotation in which Bennett holds the post for the first year.
Bennett replied: “I never asked Netanyahu to be prime minister. I asked to form a government. Unfortunately, he does not have it. ”
Threatening Netanyahu has been his ongoing corruption case. Netanyahu has been accused of fraud, breach of trust and bribery in a series of scandals. The trial has moved into the witness phase with embarrassing testimony accusing him of acting favors with a powerful media mogul. Netanyahu denies the allegations.
In recent days, he has become more and more frustrated, putting potential partners in touch with vitriol the next day. Last week’s deadly onslaught at a religious festival in which 45 ultra-Orthodox Jews were killed has only complicated his task of creating an unwelcome redirect and calls for an official inquiry into possible negligence on his guard.
Netanyahu’s opponents have meanwhile held their own meetings in an attempt to rally a possible alternative government.
Netanyahu has also suffered a series of embarrassing – and uncharacteristic – defeats in parliament.
Earlier this month, his opponents gained control of the powerful event committee, which oversees the legislative agenda until a new government is formed. Last week, he was forced to abandon his appointment of a crown as the interim justice minister, just before the Supreme Court appeared to be able to crack down on moves.
Despite all of Netanyahu’s vulnerabilities, it remains unclear whether his opponents can form an alternative government. The opposition includes a wide range of parties that have little in common apart from their hostility to Netanyahu.
If Netanyahu fails to form a coalition at midnight, he will do his utmost to prevent his opponents from reaching an agreement in the coming weeks.
It would keep him in office until the next election so he could fight his corruption allegations from the Prime Minister’s perch and give him another chance to win a new term along with possible immunity from prosecution.