Israeli parties fail to form coalition before deadline

The failure brings the country closer to holding its fourth election since April 2019

Netanyahu's main rival Benny Gantz

Negotiating teams for Israel's two leading parties failed to form a government coalition before a midnight (2100 GMT) deadline Wednesday, with the task now set to head to the parliament. Any lawmaker will have 21 days to gain the support of 61 others in the 120-seat Knesset and get his or her chance to form a government.

The step brings the country closer to holding its fourth election since April 2019; if the chosen lawmaker fails to form a government within two weeks, or no one gathers a majority, Israelis will go to the polls.

The failure comes despite "significant progress" in the past few days between the teams for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party and for the Blue and White alliance of his main rival, Benny Gantz. According to Israeli media reports, the negotiating teams were still continuing to meet even though the deadline has passed.

Gantz was given the mandate to form the government last month after receiving the backing of other lawmakers. It had been due to expire on Monday at midnight, but President Reuven Rivlin extended the deadline by 48 hours, to Wednesday at midnight, "on the understanding that [the two sides] are very close to reaching an agreement."

Rivlin had already announced that if talks between them failed, he would hand the task of building a government over to the parliament.

The two rivals have accelerated efforts to form a government to cope with the coronavirus outbreak and the related economic crisis.

Israel has been led by a caretaker government under Netanyahu since the end of 2018. After the country's third election within the span of one year on 2 March, neither side won a parliamentary majority.

Gantz and his centrist Blue and White had repeatedly vowed during elections that they would not sit in government with Netanyahu. However, Gantz reversed course in mid-March, saying that he would put all his efforts into building a coalition government with Netanyahu in light of the coronavirus crisis, and to avoid a fourth election. Gantz's efforts to form a coalition with Netanyahu, who is facing corruption charges and is due in court in May, broke up his alliance.

According to media reports, one of the main sticking points is the demand by Netanyahu's Likud party for veto rights on judicial appointments. Netanyahu also wants a guarantee that the Supreme Court can't deny him the prime minister role due to his corruption charges.

Netanyahu is charged with offering political favours to media moguls and wealthy businessmen in return for positive media coverage and expensive gifts, though he has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

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