Benjamin Netanyahu’s deadline to form a new Israeli government expired early on Wednesday, with the country’s longest-serving prime minister failing to break more than two years of political stalemate.
There was also no guarantee that, after the Conservative executive could not form a new coalition, parties outside his guard government would be able to bridge their differences and remove him.
Netanyahu, 71, has served since 2009 and also served for three years in the 1990s. He has struggled to stay at the helm through four incomplete elections since 2019 and is facing criminal corruption charges he denies.
With the midnight deadline, President Reuven Rivlin can assign the coalition building task to another Member of Parliament. It is widely expected to be Yair Lapid, 57, whose centrist party Yesh Atid placed second only to Netanyahu’s Likud in the March 23 vote.
Netanyahu’s blocs of right-wing and Jewish religious parties failed to win a majority, but so did a camp that sought to reject him, which would need to include his right-wing rivals as well as traditional left-wing and centrist opponents.
Both sides have encouraged the support of parties representing Israel’s approximately 20% of the Arab minority, which could potentially give them the floor over a cabinet for the first time in decades.
Naftali Bennett, leader of the ultranationalist party Yamina, has emerged as a kingmaker. Bennett, 49, has expressed a preference for joining Netanyahu but said he would seek a partnership with the prime minister’s opponents to avoid a fifth election as Israel resumes its economy after a rapid COVID-19 vaccination and struggles with challenges in Iran nuclear power program.
A rotation agreement where Bennett and Lapid would change as prime minister has also been widely accused.
Much of the dead end stems from Netanyahu’s legal problems: Some would-be allies have promised not to serve under a prime minister who is under trial.
If a new Rivlin nominee failed to form a coalition within 28 days, the president could ask parliament to agree on a candidate within three weeks. If it can not hold Israel a new election.
“We are 60% heading for a new election and 40% for a new government,” predicted Yoav Krakovsky, Kan Radio’s political correspondent in a morning broadcast.