In power from 1996 to 1999 and again since 2009, Netanyahu has earned a reputation as a master political survivor.
JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin NetanyahuThe mandate to form a government following an inconclusive election expired on Wednesday, giving rivals a chance to seize power and end the prime minister’s record tenure.
Netanyahu, on trial on corruption charges he denies, had a 28-day window to secure a coalition after the vote on March 23, Israel’s fourth in less than two years.
The 71-year-old right Likud the party won the most seats in the vote, but he and his allies did not get an absolute majority in the 120 seats Knesset, The Israeli parliament.
The results delivered by a deeply fractured electorate left Netanyahu a disheartening path to 61 seats, as voters largely chose not to reward him for a successful coronavirus vaccination campaign.
President Reuven rivlinThe president’s office said in a statement that Netanyahu had “informed (the presidency) that he was unable to form a government and therefore returned the mandate to the president.”
In power from 1996 to 1999 and again since 2009, Netanyahu gained a reputation as a master political survivor, and the Israeli media for the past four weeks had feverishly speculated on the deals he was making to stay in power.
But the obstacles Netanyahu encountered the morning after the vote remained largely unchanged.
A Netanyahu-led coalition would likely have required tacit cooperation between the conservative Islamic Raam Party and the far-right alliance of religious Zionism, whose leaders have launched inflammatory anti-Arab rhetoric during their political careers.
Raam leader Mansour Abbas said he was open to any arrangement that would improve the living standards of Israel’s 20% Arab minority.
But the leader of religious Zionism, Bezalel Smotrich, has repeatedly called Raam “supporters of terrorism” with whom he refused to work.
Netanyahu could also have offset the numbers by making peace with his former protégé, the religious nationalist. Naftali Bennettand convince the Likud deserters of the New Hope Party to return home.
New Hope leader Gideon Saar said his party was determined to oust Netanyahu.
Bennett, a former multi-millionaire tech entrepreneur, said on Monday that he could have endorsed Netanyahu to preserve right-wing governance, but saw no way for the prime minister to form a viable coalition.
Likud on Wednesday criticized Bennett for what he called “his refusal to form a right-wing government.”
Bennett has long been seen as a hard-line supporter and an enthusiastic supporter of expanding Jewish settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory in the West Bank.
But he sought to highlight his credentials in business and management as pandemic shutdowns ravaged the Israeli economy.
Bennett said his top priority was to avoid a fifth election and that he would work for a unity government if Netanyahu could not form a coalition.
Bennett could end up leading such a unity government, although his Yamina party only controls seven seats.
Rivlin said he would contact political leaders Wednesday morning “regarding the continuation of the process of forming a government.”
He may give another 28-day term to another lawmaker, with opposition leader Yair Lapid the most likely choice after his centrist Yesh Atid party finished second in the vote.
Lapid confirmed that he offered Bennett the chance to serve first as prime minister in a rotating coalition, in the interests of ending Netanyahu’s tenure.
“There is a historic opportunity. To break down barriers at the heart of Israeli society. To unite religious and secular, left and right and center,” Lapid said Monday.
“It’s time to choose. Between a unity government or a permanent division.”
The former TV presenter said last week’s stampede that killed 45 mostly ultra-Orthodox Jews on a religious holiday was a consequence of Israel’s lack of an “operational government”.
He admitted that an ideologically divided coalition forged mainly by shared opposition against Netanyahu “would not be perfect”, but would prioritize national interests.
Rather than calling on another lawmaker to form a government, the president could ask the Knesset to pick a name, a move unlikely to break the deadlock that could hasten Israel’s return to the polls.
In a widely criticized move, Netanyahu and his allies flirted with the legislation to create a direct vote for the prime minister, hoping he would emerge victorious in a divided field.
Likud members took steps to push forward such legislation as the prime minister’s term expired on Tuesday, but with few signs of success.