Israel moves closer to third election in 12 months after coalition government fails to form

Israel has missed a Wednesday deadline to form a new coalition government, pushing the country toward a possible third election in less than a year and prolonging the political paralysis that has gripped the nation for the past year.

The announcement was made by Benny Gantz, a former military chief, and leader of the centrist Blue and White party. The failure provided a new lifeline for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is eager to remain in office as he prepares for an expected indictment on corruption charges.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, centre, attends in an extended faction meeting of the right-wing bloc members at the Knesset, in Jerusalem. 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, centre, attends in an extended faction meeting of the right-wing bloc members at the Knesset, in Jerusalem.  (AP)

Gantz was tapped as the prime minister-designate last month after Netanyahu failed to cobble together a coalition government in the wake of inconclusive September elections. But during four weeks of intense negotiations, Gantz was unable to gather the support of a required majority in the 120-seat parliament.

Per Israeli law, parliament now enters a 21-day period where any lawmaker can try to muster a 61-seat majority and become prime minister. That means both Gantz and Netanyahu will continue their efforts to reach out to smaller parties and explore the possibility of a unity government.

Blue and White said late Wednesday that Gantz had informed President Reuven Rivlin he was unable to form a coalition. He said he would work over the next 21 days "to form a good government for the citizens of Israel."

With 34 seats, Gantz's Blue and White is the largest party in parliament, just ahead of Likud's 33, meaning the two men together could control a majority. But during weeks of talks, they could not agree on the terms of a power-sharing agreement.

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With neither side showing compromise, the country risks holding another election in March. Opinion polls have indicated a new election would deliver similar results to September's inconclusive vote, signaling additional months of post-election negotiating.

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Hovering over the talks is the expected indictment of Netanyahu on corruption charges. Netanyahu is reportedly desperate to remain prime minister so he can push for immunity. With the exception of the prime minister, Israeli law requires all politicians to resign if charged with a crime.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.