Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu missed a midnight deadline to form a new government coalition on Tuesday, boosting the risk that his Likud party would be forced into opposition after 12 years.
Netanyahu had been given a four-week time frame by Israel’s president. President Reuven Rivlin declared shortly after midnight that he would meet the 13 political parties with seats in parliament on Wednesday to discuss “the continuation of the process of forming a government.”
Benjamin Netanyahu, who is 71 years old, has been Prime Minister of Israel since 2009 and previously served for three years in the 1990s. Since 2019, he has been struggling to keep the presidency after four inconclusive elections, and he is currently on trial for alleged corruption charges, which he rejects.
Apparently, Rivlin is likely to offer one of Netanyahu’s rivals a chance to join an alternate coalition government in the days ahead. He may even petition the parliament to appoint one of its own representatives to the position of prime minister. If everything falls, the nation will be compelled to hold a fifth election in just over two years this autumn.
However, Netanyahu would not be pushed out as Prime Minister as a result of this upheaval. But, just as his corruption trial is ramping up, he now faces a major challenge to his long reign. Despite their theological divisions, his critics have been meeting informally in recent weeks in the hope of reaching a power-sharing deal.
Netanyahu has been unable to win a parliamentary majority since March 23, when elections for the fourth time in two years resulted in a stalemate. Netanyahu was also unable to find an agreement after several talks with many of his opponents and unparalleled outreach to the head of a radical Islamist Arab group.
After 52 members of parliament backed Netanyahu as prime minister last month, Rivlin gave Netanyahu the first opportunity to form a coalition. It wasn’t a majority, but it was the most by any leader.
Yair Lapid, the leader of the opposition, has gained the support of 45 lawmakers and now is the most likely contender to form a coalition. “It is clear that parliament member Yair Lapid could form a government that has the confidence of the Knesset, despite there being many difficulties,” Rivlin said.
Lapid promised to form his government in four weeks “as soon as possible, so we can get to work for the people of Israel.”
“After two years of political paralysis, Israeli society is hurting. A unity government isn’t a compromise or a last resort – it’s a goal, it’s what we need,” he said.
Naftali Bennett, the leader of the tiny religious nationalist Yamina party, is another choice. Bennett, a former Netanyahu supporter who is now a rival, holds just seven seats in parliament, but he has emerged as a kind of kingmaker, as he seems to have the support that Lapid needs to win a parliamentary majority.
Lapid has already stated that he is interested in sharing the prime ministership with Bennett. Till now, no firm settlements have been reached.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz, leader of the centrist Blue and White party, addressed the Netanyahu’s opponents and said:
“The Israeli people have taken one blow after another: a pandemic, unemployment, ugly politics, loss of faith in leadership, and deep polarization. We can work everything out within a matter of hours. It is our duty to form a government as swiftly as possible for the sake of the state of Israel and all of its citizens.”
Netanyahu has been a controversial figure in Israeli politics, with the last four votes being seen as referendums on his leadership. He’s been desperate to stay in office while awaiting trial, using his power to reach out at investigators and demand future immunity.