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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Israel's President Chooses Netanyahu's Strongest Rival to Form New Government

By VOA News May 05, 2021

Israel's president has given Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's strongest rival the uncertain task of forming a new government after Netanyahu failed to assemble a governing coalition by Tuesday at midnight.

President Reuven Rivlin announced the selection of Yair Lapid, whose centrist Yesh Atid Party finished second behind Netanyahu's right-wing Likud Party in the March 23 vote.

In a televised address, Rivlin said the former finance minister had the pledged support of 56 of the parliament's 120 members, still short of a majority.

"It is clear that parliament member Yair Lapid could form a government that has the confidence of the Knesset, despite there being many difficulties," Rivlin said.

Lapid, who has four weeks to close deals with potential partners, vowed in a statement to quickly form a broad-based governing coalition "as soon as possible, so we can get to work for the people of Israel."

Netanyahu, who is on trial facing corruption charges, was given 28 days to assemble a majority coalition in the parliament after the election, Israel's fourth in less than two years.

Netanyahu had since struggled to secure a parliamentary majority, despite unprecedented overtures to the leader of a small Islamist Arab party and meetings with many rivals.

Right-wing and Jewish religious parties, as well as traditional left-wing and centrist parties, have courted parties representing Israel's estimated 20% Arab minority, potentially empowering them to influence a Cabinet for the first time in decades.

A failure to form a new government would not have necessarily forced Netanyahu out of office immediately. Rivlin could have given him two additional weeks to build a coalition government or sent the matter directly to parliament.

The 71-year-old Netanyahu has been prime minister since 2009 after holding the same office for three years in the 1990s. He has been fighting to remain in office through two years of political deadlock due to the inconclusive elections.

He is on trial facing criminal corruption charges and has denied any wrongdoing.

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