The Israeli election ended neither with a right-wing bloc led by Netanyahu, nor with an alliance of its opponents winning a parliamentary majority.
The Israeli president said that no party leader had enough backing to form a ruling majority, but handed the job to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu amid his corruption trial.
Reuven Rivlin’s announcement on Tuesday pushed the two dramas over the country’s future and Netanyahu’s fate to the fore, giving Israel’s longest-serving prime minister another shot at trying to save his career.
Netanyahu holds most support – 52 seats – in shattered Israel Knesset, but it is still far from a majority of 61 seats.
If the warring political factions agree on anything, it is that Israel must not face an unprecedented fifth consecutive election.
“No candidate has a realistic chance of forming a government that will have the confidence of the Knesset,” Rivlin said, adding that if the law permitted, he would have made the decision in the Knesset to resolve it.
“I know the position held by many that the president should not give the role to a candidate who faces criminal charges,” Rivlin said. But the law says he must.
“Benjamin Netanyahu has a slightly higher chance of forming a government. I decided to give him this task.
Are you ready to continue serving?
It was not full approval. The charges against Israel’s longest-serving prime minister gave the president an extraordinary choice of whether “morality” should be a determining factor in who should run the government.
The March 23 election revolved around whether Netanyahu is fit to continue serving. His Likud party won the most seats, but neither party won the ruling 61-seat majority in the Knesset. This gave Rivlin the task of deciding who has the best chance of forming a coalition.
Netanyahu denies all the charges and says prosecutors are trying to undermine the voters’ intent and overthrow him.
In the 120-member Knesset, centrist politician and former finance minister Yair Lapid of the Yesh Atid party garnered 45 endorsements and former defense minister. Naftali Bennett of the far-right Yamina party won seven.
Three parties, with a total of 16 parliamentary seats, declined their meetings with Rivlin to nominate a candidate.
Netanyahu urged Bennett and another former ally, Gideon Saar, who founded the right-wing New Horizon party after leaving the Prime Minister’s Tory Likud, to join him in breaking the deadlock.
Bennett didn’t hesitate to team up again with Netanyahu, with whom he had a difficult relationship.
Saar said he would not serve under Netanyahu, citing the Prime Minister’s corruption trial – which opened on Monday – but stopped before approving Lapid.
Netanyahu, who has denied any foul play, attended part of the hearing and was subsequently accused on several occasions that the prosecution case was “an attempted coup” aimed at overthrowing a ” Strong and right-wing prime minister ”.
Lapid said Monday he offered Bennett a coalition deal. According to the arrangement, Bennett would first take the post of Prime Minister, then Lapid would take over.
“The Israeli public needs to see that its leaders can work together,” Lapid said in a televised speech.
Bennett made no immediate comment on Lapid’s offer. Political commentators have said such a deal could also pave the way for right-winger Saar to join Lapid, with the prospect of Bennett, a fellow Conservative, at the helm.
Netanyahu will have 28 days to attempt to put together a coalition and may request a two-week extension from Rivlin, who has the option of handing over the task to someone else if a government is not formed.