Israeli president chooses Netanyahu to try to form government

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 faces trial 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 as prime minister in light of his legal problems.

However, Rivlin said there was nothing in the law to prevent Netanyahu from holding that position. 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.

“I have decided to entrust you with the task,” Rivlin said from Jerusalem.

“This is not an easy decision from a moral and ethical point of view,” he added. “The state of Israel should not be taken for granted. And I fear for my country ”.

With that, Rivlin fueled the 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. Netanyahu now has up to six weeks to try to build a coalition. If he fails, Rivlin could give another party leader a chance to try to form a government, or the country could be mired in another election.

Netanyahu has the most support (52 seats) in the Israeli Knesset. But that’s still short of the 61 seats needed for a majority. He is likely to use his power of persuasion to try to lure various opponents, including close former aides who have vowed never to serve under his orders again, with generous offers from powerful government ministries or legislative committees.

The task will not be easy.

To secure a majority, Netanyahu would likely need the support of a small Islamist Arab party, and one of his partners, the religious Zionists, have an openly racist platform and say they will not serve in a government with Arab partners.

“The chances of Netanyahu forming a government, as it seems right now, are quite low,” said Yohan Plesner, president of the Israel Institute of Democracy, a Jerusalem think tank.

Netanyahu also likely needs the support of Yamina, a right-wing party led by a former ally turned rival. Yamina’s leader, Naftali Bennett, has had a strained relationship with Netanyahu in recent years. He was also great with an alliance with Arab parties.

Bennett called for the formation of a “stable, right-wing” government on Tuesday and promised to negotiate in “good faith.” But he did not promise to back Netanyahu.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid, head of the centrist Yesh Atid party, acknowledged that the law did not leave Rivlin “without a choice”, but in the same tweet he denounced the development as “a shameful shame that tarnishes Israel.”

Lapid has offered an alternative: a power-sharing agreement with Bennett that would see the two men rotate as prime minister. They are expected to hold intense negotiations in the coming weeks.

In a sign of defiance ahead of Netanyahu, some 100 protesters raised LGBT pride flags and a simulated submarine, a reference to a corruption scandal involving the purchase of German submarines, in a loud demonstration Tuesday that was heard as officials they began to swear. at the festivities of the new parliament in an open-air square. The leaders of the ultra-nationalist Religious Zionism party, which backs Netanyahu, are openly homophobic.

Netanyahu’s coalition talks will take place in the shadow of his corruption trial. While a ruling is months or even years away, 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.

In court, he faces charges of fraud, breach of trust and bribery in three separate cases. Proceedings resumed on Tuesday, although the prime minister did not 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.

This week’s court proceedings focused on the most serious case against Netanyahu, in which he is accused of promoting regulations that gave hundreds of millions of dollars in profits to the telecommunications company Bezeq in exchange for positive coverage on the popular site. news agency, 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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