Ne­tanyahu given chance to form new gov’t

Is­rael’s long­time pre­mier still faces up­hill strug­gle

The Korea Times - - WORLD -

JERUSALEM (AP) — Is­rael’s pres­i­dent on Wed­nes­day asked Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu to form a new gov­ern­ment, giv­ing the long­time leader the dif­fi­cult task of break­ing a post-elec­tion dead­lock that has par­a­lyzed the coun­try’s po­lit­i­cal sys­tem.

Af­ter a di­vi­sive cam­paign, Ne­tanyahu called for a “broad unity gov­ern­ment” with his chief ri­val for­mer mil­i­tary chief Benny Gantz. But he faces an up­hill strug­gle, with his fu­ture clouded by a likely cor­rup­tion in­dict­ment and his op­po­nents op­posed to sit­ting with him.

Pres­i­dent Reu­ven Rivlin an­nounced his de­ci­sion late Wed­nes­day af­ter a sec­ond meet­ing aimed at bro­ker­ing a unity deal be­tween Ne­tanyahu and Gantz ended with­out an agree­ment.

Stand­ing along­side Rivlin, Ne­tanyahu said it was clear that nei­ther his Likud party nor Gantz’s Blue and White could put to­gether a coali­tion on its own, and that the only op­tion was to band to­gether.

“The two of us can­not form a gov­ern­ment un­less we are to­gether,” he said. “The or­der of the mo­ment is a unity gov­ern­ment, a broad na­tional unity gov­ern­ment that is formed quickly.”

He said the coun­try faced great se­cu­rity chal­lenges, high­lighted by Iran, eco­nomic chal­lenges and the “great op­por­tu­nity” of set­tling its bor­ders when Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump presents an ex­pected Mideast peace plan.

In a state­ment, Gantz ap­peared to re­buff Ne­tanyahu, cit­ing the Is­raeli leader’s le­gal prob­lems.

“Blue and White, led by me, does not agree to sit in a gov­ern­ment whose leader is fac­ing a se­vere in­dict­ment,” he said. “This is­sue, among a num­ber of other crit­i­cal fac­tors, is more im­por­tant to us than any del­e­ga­tion of min­is­te­rial posts or ro­ta­tion.”

Rivlin said his de­ci­sion was not a so­lu­tion and that both can­di­dates were re­spon­si­ble for re­solv­ing the po­lit­i­cal im­passe.

“The Is­raeli peo­ple need to know that a gov­ern­ment can be es­tab­lished,” he said. “It is true that ev­ery­one will have to com­pro­mise. But if a gov­ern­ment is not formed, it is the cit­i­zens of Is­rael who will pay the great­est price.”

Rivlin said his de­ci­sion was not a so­lu­tion, and that both can­di­dates were re­spon­si­ble for re­solv­ing the po­lit­i­cal im­passe.

Al­though Rivlin’s du­ties are mostly cer­e­mo­nial, he is re­spon­si­ble for choos­ing the can­di­date he be­lieves has the best chance of form­ing a coali­tion gov­ern­ment.

That is usu­ally a straight­for­ward task. But in last week’s elec­tion, nei­ther Ne­tanyahu’s Likud party nor Gantz’s cen­trist Blue and White se­cured the re­quired par­lia­men­tary ma­jor­ity needed to form a gov­ern­ment.

Ac­cord­ing to fi­nal of­fi­cial re­sults an­nounced Wed­nes­day, Blue and White fin­ished first with 33 seats in the 120-seat par­lia­ment, just ahead of Likud’s 32 seats. Even with the sup­port of smaller al­lies, both par­ties are short of the re­quired 61-seat ma­jor­ity.

A to­tal of 55 law­mak­ers have rec­om­mended that Ne­tanyahu lead the next gov­ern­ment, while 54 have lined up be­hind Gantz. Rivlin said that af­ter ex­plor­ing all op­tions, he con­cluded Ne­tanyahu had the bet­ter chance of form­ing a gov­ern­ment.

Ne­tanyahu now has a pre­lim­i­nary 28-day pe­riod to try to bro­ker a deal. But his odds of suc­cess ap­pear to be slim.

Both sides agree a unity deal is the only way out of the dead­lock, but they have dis­agreed over who should head it.

Gantz has re­peat­edly said he will not sit with Likud as long as Ne­tanyahu is at the helm. Fac­ing a likely cor­rup­tion in­dict­ment in the com­ing months, Ne­tanyahu is des­per­ate to re­main as prime min­is­ter.

Is­rael’s at­tor­ney gen­eral has rec­om­mended charg­ing Ne­tanyahu with bribery, fraud and breach of trust in a se­ries of scan­dals.

Ne­tanyahu, who de­nies any wrong­do­ing, is to ap­pear at a hear­ing with the at­tor­ney gen­eral next week, af­ter which a fi­nal de­ci­sion on charges is ex­pected. Le­gal ex­perts say the like­li­hood of an in­dict­ment is high. Al­though Ne­tanyahu would not be re­quired to step down if charged, he will face heavy pres­sure to do so.

An­other key player through­out the process will be Avig­dor Lieber­man, whose Yis­rael Beit­enu party con­trols eight seats. Lieber­man re­fused to en­dorse ei­ther can­di­date and is push­ing for a unity gov­ern­ment.

EPA-Yon­hap

Is­raeli Pres­i­dent Reu­ven Rivlin shakes hands with Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu in Jerusalem, Wed­nes­day. The of­fice of the pres­i­dent says Ne­tanyahu has been given the task of form­ing a new gov­ern­ment.

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