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Sunday, 23 February 2020

Israel moves towards election rerun as deadline looms

AFP , Wednesday 29 May 2019
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem May 19, 2019 (Photo: Reuters)
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Israelis faced the increasing likelihood Wednesday of a new vote just months after an April election, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition talks deadlocked hours ahead of a midnight deadline.

Netanyahu's failure to reach a coalition deal has seen him shift in a matter of weeks from victory celebrations to tense, behind-the-scenes efforts to ensure his long tenure in power continues even if a repeat election is required.

Confronted with the seeming impossibility of forming the coalition he is seeking, Netanyahu has turned his efforts in recent days towards pushing for new elections as an alternative if Wednesday's deadline approaches without an agreement.

Doing so could prevent Netanyahu's nightmare scenario of Israeli President Reuven Rivlin selecting another parliament member to try to form a government.

Holding elections so close to one another would be unprecedented for Israel, but the stakes could not be much higher for the 69-year-old premier.

He is facing possible indictment for bribery, fraud and breach of trust in the months ahead and is reportedly seeking legislation in the new parliament that would result in him being granted immunity.

Netanyahu is also on track to become Israel's longest-serving prime minister in July, surpassing founding father David Ben-Gurion, and he is no doubt aware of the weighty milestone.

But his efforts to form a new coalition have hit a brick wall, despite the alliance of right-wing and religious factions led by his Likud party winning a majority of 65 seats out of 120 in the April 9 general election.

Ex-defence minister Avigdor Lieberman has prevented an agreement by refusing to abandon a key demand, and his nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party's five seats are just enough to torment Netanyahu.

Lieberman wants legislation he supports aimed at having ultra-Orthodox Jews perform mandatory military service like other Jewish Israelis to be approved without changes.

The issue is highly sensitive in Israel and the legislation is opposed by ultra-Orthodox parties, who control 16 seats in parliament and are a key part of Netanyahu's alliance.

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