JERUSALEM – With the clock ticking, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu raced to put together a governing coalition Tuesday or face the prospect of being forced out of office by a former ally.
Netanyahu's Likud Party won March 17 elections, emerging as the largest single party in parliament. But he has had a tough time striking deals with other parties to secure a 61-seat majority in the 120-seat parliament. If he fails by the end of the day Wednesday, President Reuven Rivlin must give someone else the job.
His efforts hit a snag Monday when a key ally, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, unexpectedly resigned and announced his secular nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party was joining the opposition.
By late Tuesday, Netanyahu had deals with three partners controlling 53 seats. They include Kulanu, a centrist party focused on economic issues, and two ultra-Orthodox religious parties.
With the deadline approaching, Netanyahu negotiated Tuesday with the hawkish Jewish Home Party.
The party, linked to the West Bank settler movement, is led by Naftali Bennett, a former Netanyahu aide who now has a rocky relationship with him.
Bennett reportedly was driving a hard bargain, seeking the prestigious job of foreign minister for himself and the job of justice minister for a party member. Israeli media reported Bennett is fuming over Netanyahu's deals with the ultra-Orthodox parties giving them ministerial power over religious services.
Even if they reach a deal, Netanyahu would have the slimmest of majorities, with just 61 seats, leaving him vulnerable. A narrow coalition would have a difficult time passing economic reforms favored by Kulanu. It also would be averse to peace moves with the Palestinians and likely favor expanded settlement construction, putting it on a collision course with the international community.
Parliament speaker Yuli Edelstein of Likud warned on Israel's Channel 2 television station that such a government would not be effective or last long. He recommended that Netanyahu reach out to the dovish Zionist Union list to stabilize it. However, its leader, Isaac Herzog, has said he will sit in the opposition.