Ne­tanyahu chal­lenger falls short

Times-Herald (Vallejo) - - NEWS - By Josef Fe­d­er­man

JERUSALEM >> Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu’s chief ri­val an­nounced Wed­nes­day that he had failed to form a new govern­ment, dash­ing his hopes of top­pling the long­time Is­raeli prime min­is­ter and push­ing the coun­try closer to­ward an un­prece­dented third elec­tion in less than a year.

The an­nounce­ment by Benny Gantz, leader of the cen­trist Blue and White party, pro­longs the po­lit­i­cal paral­y­sis that has gripped the na­tion for the past year. It also pro­vides a new life­line for the em­bat­tled Ne­tanyahu, who is des­per­ate to re­main in of­fice as he pre­pares for an ex­pected in­dict­ment on cor­rup­tion charges, pos­si­bly as early as Thurs­day.

Gantz, a for­mer mil­i­tary chief, was tapped to form a govern­ment last month af­ter Ne­tanyahu failed to cob­ble to­gether a coali­tion in the wake of in­con­clu­sive Septem­ber elec­tions. But dur­ing four weeks of in­tense ne­go­ti­a­tions, Gantz was un­able to muster the sup­port of a re­quired 61-mem­ber ma­jor­ity in the 120-seat par­lia­ment by Wed­nes­day’s mid­night dead­line.

Ad­dress­ing re­porters, Gantz ac­cused Ne­tanyahu of scut­tling at­tempts to form a broad-based unity govern­ment be­tween their par­ties.

“He should have come to terms with the fact that the out­come of the elec­tions re­quired him to ne­go­ti­ate di­rectly, with no blocks or bar­ri­ers,” Gantz said an­grily.

“Most of the peo­ple chose a lib­eral unity govern­ment headed by Blue and White,” he added. “Most of the peo­ple voted to weaken the power of ex­trem­ists, and most of the peo­ple voted to go on a dif­fer­ent path from that of Ne­tanyahu in re­cent years.”

Un­der Is­raeli law, par­lia­ment now en­ters a 21-day pe­riod where any law­maker

Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz ad­dresses me­dia in Tel Aviv, Is­rael. Wed­nes­day.

can try to muster a 61-seat ma­jor­ity and be­come prime min­is­ter.

That means both Gantz and Ne­tanyahu will con­tinue their ef­forts to find coali­tion part­ners and to ex­plore the pos­si­bil­ity of a unity govern­ment. Darkhorse can­di­dates may also emerge. If they fail, the coun­try would be forced to hold another elec­tion in March.

“These are 21 fate­ful days in which Is­raeli democ­racy will be chal­lenged by the most im­por­tant test,” Gantz said. He vowed to try to find a way to pull Is­rael “out of the to­tal paral­y­sis that was forced upon us.”

Gantz’s Blue and White is the largest party in par­lia­ment, with 34 seats, just ahead of Likud’s 33, mean­ing the two men to­gether could con­trol a ma­jor­ity. But dur­ing weeks of talks, they could not agree on the terms of a power-shar­ing agree­ment, in­clud­ing who would first be prime min­is­ter and what would hap­pen if Ne­tanyahu is in­dicted.

Opin­ion polls have in­di­cated a new elec­tion would de­liver sim­i­lar re­sults to Septem­ber’s in­con­clu­sive vote, sig­nal­ing ad­di­tional months of horse-trad­ing and un­cer­tainty.

The race, how­ever, could be shaken up by the ex­pected in­dict­ment of Ne­tanyahu in a se­ries of cor­rup­tion cases. Chan­nel 13 TV re­ported that At­tor­ney Gen­eral Avichai Man­del­blit

has de­cided to file fraud and breach of trust charges and an an­nounce­ment could come as soon as Thurs­day. There was no im­me­di­ate con­fir­ma­tion from the Jus­tice Min­istry.

Ne­tanyahu is des­per­ate to re­main in the prime min­is­ter’s post, where he would be best po­si­tioned to fight the charges and seek im­mu­nity from pros­e­cu­tion from par­lia­ment. With the ex­cep­tion of prime min­is­ter, Is­raeli law re­quires pub­lic of­fi­cials to re­sign if charged with a crime.

As Ne­tanyahu’s le­gal woes have mounted, his Likud party has re­mained firmly be­hind him. But that could change if there is a for­mal in­dict­ment, and he could be­gin to face calls to step aside. It also is un­clear how vot­ers be­yond his po­lit­i­cal base would re­act to an in­dict­ment.

Gantz has ruled out a part­ner­ship with Ne­tanyahu at a time when he is fac­ing trial, but has said he has no ob­jec­tions to part­ner­ing with Likud if it is led by some­one else.

Wed­nes­day’s cri­sis was trig­gered by Avig­dor Lieber­man, leader of a small sec­u­lar, ul­tra­na­tion­al­ist party who has emerged as Is­rael’s po­lit­i­cal power bro­ker.

Nei­ther Gantz nor Ne­tanyahu was able to form a ma­jor­ity govern­ment with­out Lieber­man’s sup­port. But on Wed­nes­day, Lieber­man said he would not en­dorse ei­ther can­di­date.

ODED BALILTY — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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