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Netanyahu faces midnight deadline to form govt


TEL AVIV: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faced a midnight deadline on Tuesday to form a government, a daunting task that would likely require convincing the Jewish far right to cooperate with an Islamic party.

Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption, was given a 28-day window to forge a majority coalition following a March 23 general election, Israel’s fourth inconclusive vote in less than two years.

The prime minister’s right-wing Likud party won the most seats in the vote, but as results came in on election day, it became clear that he would again struggle to secure a majority in the 120-seat parliament.

Over the past month, Israeli media have been rife with speculation about possible deals that could see Netanyahu extend his record 12 consecutive years in power.

But hours before his negotiating window was due to expire at 2100 GMT, the core obstacles facing the 71-year-old premier remained largely unchanged since the morning after the vote.

A coalition will require coming to terms with his estranged former protege Naftali Bennett, leader of the hawkish Yamina party.

It will also require persuading the far-right Religious Zionism alliance to tacitly cooperate with the Islamic conservative Raam party.

Religious Zionism has vowed not to sit in such a coalition.

Orit Strok, a lawmaker from the party who lives in a settlement in Hebron in the occupied West Bank, told army radio that sitting with Raam would “bring a Trojan horse into the government of Israel” and mean “the end of Zionism.”

Netanyahu said on Thursday that he had offered Bennett to serve as premier ahead of him if that would help maintain the right’s hold on power. Bennett immediately replied that he never asked Netanyahu for the opportunity to be prime minister. “I asked him to form a government, which, unfortunately, he cannot do,” Bennett said.

Political scientist Gayil Talshir of Hebrew University said a Netanyahu-Bennett arrangement was doomed because it would require support from Likud defector Gideon Saar, whose New Hope party won six seats.

Saar has maintained that he is committed to ousting Netanyahu.

“Bennett did not say no to (Netanyahu’s) offer, he just said it’s not realistic,” Talshir said. — AFP

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