Israeli elections: Netanyahu asked to form next government

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Composite image of Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny GantzImage source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz failed to agree a deal on a unity government

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been asked to form the country's next government by President Reuven Rivlin.

It comes after Mr Netanyahu and his main opponent in the recent general election, Benny Gantz, failed to agree a deal on a unity government.

Last week's general election - the second this year - ended in deadlock.

Mr Gantz's Blue and White Alliance won 33 seats while Mr Netanyahu's Likud party won 32 in the 120-seat Knesset.

Mr Netanyahu now has up to six weeks to try and put together a government.

Mr Rivlin has said he will do everything he can to avoid a third general election this year.

"Netanyahu has more of a chance to form a government," the president said in a speech while standing alongside alongside Mr Netanyahu.

Netanyahu faces difficult task

Benjamin Netanyahu was unable to form a governing coalition after elections in April, and it doesn't look any easier now. He has four, possibly six, weeks to convince other parties to back him.

The president chose him for the task because he has slightly more overall support in the newly elected Knesset than his main rival Benny Gantz, even though Mr Gantz's Blue and White Party has one more seat than Mr Netanyahu's Likud.

As the prime minister accepted the mandate, he stepped up the pressure for a broad unity government with Mr Gantz. Polls show that's what the voters want, but the two parties failed to reach a power-sharing agreement in talks this week, and Mr Gantz again refused Mr Netanyahu's terms.

He said would not do a deal with the prime minister's bloc of right-wing parties, or "sit in a government whose leader was facing a severe indictment".

Mr Netanyahu is particularly determined to keep his job because that would put him in a stronger position to deal with a possible indictment on corruption charges. He insists he is innocent and will be making his case at a hearing next week.

On Monday, Israeli-Arab lawmakers recommended that Mr Gantz, a former army chief, should become prime minister. The Joint List, a bloc of Arab parties that came third in the election, said it wanted to remove Mr Netanyahu from power.

It was the first time since 1992 that an Arab political group had issued an endorsement for an Israeli prime minister.

Image source, EPA
Image caption,
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin held a series of meetings to try to break the impasse

The Joint List won 13 seats in the election. If Mr Gantz had the endorsement of all 13 seats, he would still fall short of the 61 seats needed for a majority in the 120-seat legislature.

Last week's election was called after coalition talks collapsed following April's poll.