Israeli president asks Netanyahu to form government following deadlocked elections
Israel's president on Wednesday tasked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with forming a new government after last week's deadlocked elections, his office announced.
The announcement followed a joint meeting between Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin, Netanyahu and the premier's challenger Benny Gantz.
Netanyahu will have 28 days to form a government, with a possible two-week extension.
If all attempts fail, Rivlin can then assign the task to someone else.
Rivlin has been urging Netanyahu and Gantz to form a unity government, but a compromise appears a long way off.
Final results from September 17 elections gave Gantz's centrist Blue and White 33 seats, ahead of Likud's 32 out of parliament's 120.
Neither has a clear path to a majority coalition.
Netanyahu received the endorsement of 55 members of parliament for the post of prime minister after the election, while Gantz received 54.
The Joint List, a coalition of four Arab parties who won 13 seats in the parliament, initially announced that they would endorse Gantz, but one of the parties, Balad, later withdrew its endorsement, citing Gantz’s violent military history.
In previous elections in April, Netanyahu suffered one of the biggest defeats of his political career when he failed to form a coalition despite his Likud party and its extreme-right and religious allies coming out on top.
Netanyahu was forced to call the September elections as a result. Many Israelis now fear that a third election will have to be called if a government is not formed.
Meanwhile, the attorney general has announced his intention to indict Netanyahu on fraud, bribery and breach of trust charges pending a hearing expected for early October.
Many expect him to seek immunity if re-elected.
Netanyahu has spent years outlasting opponents and he could well do so again. If Netanyahu does succeed in forming a government, he may follow through with a highly controversial campaign pledge to annex the Jordan Valley region, which forms one-third of the occupied Palestinian West Bank.
However, he faces an uphill battle to gain the endorsement of a majority of Knesset members. If Netanyahu is unable to form a government, Rivlin will likely assign the task to Gantz.