Benjamin Netanyahu fails to form government, Israel turns to his rival Gantz

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NEW YORK: Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has given up his latest attempt to form a government, clearing the way for Benny Gantz, the former army chief who narrowly defeated him in last month’s election, to try to become the country’s next leader.
Netanyahu, who turned 70 on Monday and has been prime minister since 2009, told President Reuven Rivlin on Monday evening that he had been unable to put together a 61-seat majority coalition in parliament.
Rivlin said he would give Gantz, leader of the centrist Blue and White party, the mandate to form a government “as soon as possible.” Under the law, Gantz will have 28 days to do so.
“The time of spin is over, and it is now time for action,” Gantz’s party said in a statement. “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 is unclear, however, whether Gantz will have any greater chance of succeeding. Netanyahu is counting on Gantz to fail. That could force a third election, a prospect that few Israelis would relish aside from Netanyahu’s most devoted supporters.
Netanyahu is desperate to stay on as prime minister, a post he can use as a pulpit as he tries to fend off charges of corruption against him. Israeli law requires cabinet ministers to step down if charged with a crime. But the law is vague for sitting prime ministers, meaning he could theoretically remain in the post if he is indicted, though he would likely face calls to step aside.
The allegations against Netanyahu include suspicions that he accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars of champagne and cigars from billionaire friends, offered to trade favors with a newspaper publisher and used his influence to help a wealthy telecom magnate in exchange for favourable coverage on a popular news site.
Netanyahu has called the allegations against him as part of a “witch hunt”.
Gantz, in his first run for office, tied Netanyahu in their first contest in April. He narrowly edged Netanyahu’s Likud party on September 17, but Netanyahu’s coalition of right-wing and ultrareligious parties came away with a larger bloc in Parliament than Gantz’s alliance of center-left parties, earning the incumbent the first attempt at forming a government.

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