Middle East

Israel's Netanyahu faces deadline to form coalition

Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset. 4 May 2015 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Benjamin Netanyahu faces having a slim majority in parliament, leaving him vulnerable

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is racing to assemble a coalition government ahead of a Wednesday evening deadline.

His Likud party won March's election but he is still trying to strike deals with other parties to gain a majority.

On Monday, former ally Avigdor Lieberman said his Yisrael Beitenu party would not join the coalition.

If one is not formed by midnight (21:00 GMT), President Reuven Rivlin will offer the chance to another party.

By late Tuesday, Mr Netanyahu had secured deals with three parties - the centrist Kulanu and two ultra-Orthodox parties, United Torah Judaism (UTJ) and Shas - giving him 53 seats in Israel's 120-seat parliament, the Knesset.

Hard bargain

Early on Wednesday, the prime minister was said to be in talks with the right-wing Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) party led by Naftali Bennett.

Bayit Yehudi's eight seats would give Mr Netanyahu the necessary 61 for a slim majority.

But Israeli media said Mr Bennett was trying to strike a hard bargain, asking for the prestigious justice ministry portfolio.

Mr Lieberman, Israel's foreign minister, pulled out of the talks on Monday, saying the coalition was not "nationalist" enough.

Analysts say Mr Netanyahu could try to form a "national unity" government with the leading centre-left opposition party Zionist Union, but both sides have so far played down the possibility.

Likud's election win came as a surprise after exit polls had predicted a dead heat between the party and the Zionist Union. In the end, it gained 30 seats in the Knesset and the Zionist Union 24.

Israel's system of proportional representation always produces coalition governments. No party has ever won an outright majority.

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