JERUSALEM (AP) – Israel’s President on Tuesday handed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the difficult task of trying to form a government out of the country’s divided parliament, giving the embattled leader a chance to extend his long term in office while he is tried on corruption charges.
In his announcement, President Reuven Rivlin acknowledged that no party leader had the necessary support to form a majority coalition in the 120-seat Knesset. He also noted that many believe Netanyahu is unfit to serve in light of his legal troubles.
However, Rivlin said there was nothing in the law preventing Netanyahu from serving as prime minister. After consulting with the 13 parties in the newly elected parliament, Rivlin said that Netanyahu had the best chance of any candidate to form a new government.
“No candidate has a realistic chance of forming a government that has the confidence of the Knesset,” Rivlin said. But, he added, Netanyahu is “slightly more likely” to be able to do so.
“I have decided to entrust you with the task,” Rivlin said from Jerusalem. Netanyahu now has up to six weeks to try to build a coalition during his trial.
The decision fueled twin dramas about the country’s future and Netanyahu’s fate, giving Israel’s longest-serving prime minister a new chance to try and save his career.
A court ruling could take months or even years. The proceedings are expected to take place up to three days a week, an embarrassing and slow distraction that will overshadow Netanyahu’s appeals to his rivals.
Netanyahu has the most support (52 seats) in the Israeli Knesset. But that’s still short of a 61-seat majority. He is likely to use his power of persuasion to try to attract various opponents, including some former close associates who have vowed never to serve under him again, with generous offers from powerful government ministries or legislative committees.
Parties representing 45 members supported Yair Lapid, while Yamina, with seven seats, nominated her own leader, Naftali Bennett. Three Parties with a total of 16 seats did not make any recommendations.
Rivlin’s decision merges questions about Netanyahu’s legal and political future in what is perhaps the toughest political challenge of his career.
In court, he faces charges of fraud, breach of trust and bribery in three separate cases. Proceedings resumed on Tuesday, although the prime minister was not expected to appear in court.
A key witness on Monday presented Netanyahu as an image-obsessed leader who forced a prominent news site to help his family and smear his opponents.
Netanyahu denies all the charges and in a nationally televised speech accused prosecutors of persecuting him in an effort to remove him from office.
“This is what a coup attempt looks like,” he said.
Monday’s court session focused on the most serious case against Netanyahu, in which he is accused of promoting regulations that handed over hundreds of millions of dollars of profits to the telecommunications company Bezeq in exchange for positive coverage on the popular Facebook site. firm news, Walla.
Ilan Yeshua, Walla’s former editor-in-chief, described a system in which Bezeq’s owners, Shaul and Iris Elovitch, repeatedly pressured him to post favorable things about Netanyahu and smear the prime minister’s rivals.
The explanation the couple gave him? “That is what the prime minister wanted,” he said.
Kellman reported from Tel Aviv, Israel.
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