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Israeli opposition leader tapped to form new goverment as Netanyahu fails to put together coalition

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel’s president has tapped opposition leader Yair Lapid to form a new government — a step that could lead to the end of the lengthy rule of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

President Reuven Rivlin announced his decision on live television a day after Netanyahu failed to cobble together a governing coalition by a midnight deadline.

Rivlin spent the day consulting with all of the parties elected to Israel’s parliament and announced late Wednesday that he believes Lapid has the best chance of forming a coalition. 

Lapid, whose late father was a Cabinet minister and who himself is a veteran journalist and politician, now has four weeks to reach a deal with potential partners.

While Lapid faces a difficult task, he now has the chance to make history by ending the reign of Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister. Netanyahu has held the post for a total of 15 years, including the past 12.

Earlier Update:

Israel’s president on Wednesday signaled he would move quickly to task a new candidate with forming a government after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to do so ahead of a midnight deadline the previous day.

Netanyahu’s political future was thrown into question when he failed to assemble a ruling coalition in the four weeks allotted to him. That raised the possibility that his 12-year run as prime minister — the longest in Israeli history — could soon come to an end. It follows more than two years of political paralysis.

“It looks like, perhaps within a few days or a few weeks, we might have a functioning coalition that will not include Mr. Netanyahu. This will be a groundbreaking change,” said Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute, an independent think tank.

He acknowledged, however, that “a fifth consecutive election is still, unfortunately, a real possibility.”

President Reuven Rivlin, who occupies a mostly ceremonial role, is expected in the coming days to give one of Netanyahu’s opponents a chance to form an alternative coalition government. He also could ask the parliament to select one of its own members as prime minister. If all else fails, the country would be forced into another election this fall — the fifth in just over two years.

Rivlin met with the two main candidates for forming a government — opposition leader Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett, a former Netanyahu ally — and asked parties to make their positions known by early afternoon.

Lapid, who heads the centrist Yesh Atid party, received the backing of four smaller parties from across the political spectrum, while Bennett, head of the small nationalist and religious Yamina party, recommended himself to form the next government. 

Addressing reporters later, Bennett, a former Netanyahu ally, accused the prime minister of “slamming the door” in his face and vowed to seek the formation of a broad government spanning the poltical spectrum. He said everything must be done to avert another election.

“This is the time to form a unity government,” he said. “The door is open to all parties.” 

“I can’t promise we will succeed in forming such a government,” he added. “I do promise we will try.”

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