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Netanyahu Gives Up on Coalition        10/22 06:10

   JERUSALEM (AP) -- Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Monday that he 
had failed to form a majority government in parliament, marking a major setback 
for the embattled Israeli leader that plunges the country into a new period of 
political uncertainty.

   In a statement, Netanyahu said he had worked "tirelessly" to establish a 
unity government with his chief rival, former military chief Benny Gantz, but 
been repeatedly rebuffed. Facing a Wednesday deadline, Netanyahu said he was 
returning the "mandate" to President Reuven Rivlin, who will now ask Gantz to 
try to form a coalition. Gantz, however, could face an equally difficult task.

   While Netanyahu remains at the helm of his Likud party, his announcement 
marked the second time this year that he has been unable to form a government. 
With Israel's attorney general set to decide in the coming weeks on whether to 
indict Netanyahu in a series of corruption cases, the longtime Israeli leader 
could come under heavy pressure to step aside. One party rival, Gideon Saar, 
has already indicated he would challenge Netanyahu if Likud holds a primary.

   In last month's national election, Netanyahu fell short of securing a 
61-seat parliamentary majority. But Rivlin gave Netanyahu the first opportunity 
to form a government because he had more support --- 55 lawmakers --- than 
Gantz, who was supported by only 54.

   Netanyahu had hoped to form a broad "unity" government with Gantz, who heads 
the centrist Blue and White party. But Netanyahu insisted that his coalition 
include his traditional allies, a collection of hardline and religious parties, 
drawing accusations from Gantz that he was not negotiating in good faith.

   "Since I received the mandate, I have worked tirelessly both in public and 
behind the scenes to establish a broad, national unity government. That's what 
the people want," Netanyahu said in a statement.

   "During the past few weeks, I made every effort to bring Benny Gantz to the 
negotiating table. Every effort to establish a broad national unity government, 
every effort to prevent another election," he said. "To my regret, time after 
time he declined. He simply refused."

                  For Netanyahu, who marked his 70th birthday on Monday, it was 
another painful setback. In an earlier election in April, Netanyahu also failed 
to win a parliamentary majority and was forced to call the indecisive Sept. 17 
election. Now, for the first time since Netanyahu was elected in early 2009, 
the country faces the possibility of choosing a different leader.

   In a short statement, Gantz's Blue and White party said that "now is the 
time of action."

   "Blue and White is determined to form the liberal unity government, led by 
Benny Gantz, that the people of Israel voted for a month ago," it said.

                 Gantz has vowed to unify the country and restore national 
institutions after Netanyahu's decade-long rule, which has deepened Israel's 
religious and political divides and been roiled by corruption allegations.

                  In contrast to Netanyahu, whose political career spans three 
decades, the 60-year-old Gantz is a newcomer who only burst onto the scene over 
the last year. The towering former general's party, Blue and White, is a newly 
formed centrist coalition that includes the popular secular politician Yair 
Lapid as well as other former senior military officers and some of Netanyahu's 
fiercest critics.

                  At times, Gantz has criticized Netanyahu's handling of 
security issues, particularly in the Gaza Strip, and has touted his time as 
army chief, when he oversaw a devastating 2014 war in Gaza. He also has hinted 
at reviving the peace process with the Palestinians. But Gantz has been vague, 
apparently wary of alienating potential coalition partners, and focused most of 
his efforts at portraying himself as a fresh alternative to Netanyahu.

   There is no guarantee, however, that Gantz will succeed.

   He has expressed willingness to form a partnership with Likud, but not if 
Netanyahu continues to lead while he faces such serious legal problems. For the 
time being, Likud has remained steadfastly behind its leader.

   Without Likud, Gantz will have a hard time securing a majority in 
parliament. The opposition to Netanyahu includes a diverse group of parties, 
ranging from Arab parties to the secular ultranationalist party Yisrael 
Beitenu, that are unlikely to sit together in partnership.

   If Gantz fails during his 28-day window, a majority of lawmakers could try 
to endorse a third candidate, something that has never happened before. And if 
that fails, the country would be forced into the unprecedented scenario of a 
third election in under a year.


(KR)

 
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