Israel PM to request extra time for forming govt
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is to make a formal request for extra time to piece together a new government, the president's office said, Al Arabiya reported.
After a surprise election victory, Netanyahu was on March 25 tasked by President Reuven Rivlin with forming the next government and given four weeks to do so.
With the deadline fast approaching, the Israeli leader was to formally request an extension of up to two weeks at a working meeting with Rivlin on Monday morning, the president's office said in a statement.
"At the conclusion of the meeting, the prime minister will request an extension of the time allocated to him to form the new governing coalition," a statement said.
"According to the Basic Law: ... the president has the power to extend that (initial four-week) period for a maximum of a further 14 days."
If he still cannot form a coalition, Rivlin can assign another party leader to the task - again with a 28-day deadline.
If that fails, he can select a third person who has just 14 days to complete the task. If that does not work, the president calls a new election.
Despite nearly four weeks of intensive negotiations, Netanyahu has not yet managed to reach agreement on the government he was hoping to form - which would comprise six rightwing and religious parties and have a majority of 67 in the 120-seat parliament.
Since the outset, Netanyahu has been expected to form a coalition which would comprise his rightwing Likud (30 seats), the far-right Jewish Home (eight), the hardline anti-Arab Yisrael Beitenu (six), the ultra-Orthodox parties Shas (seven) and United Torah Judaism (UTJ, six) and the center-right Kulanu (10).
But as the talks have dragged on, there has been increasing talk about him turning to the center-left Zionist Union to form a national unity government, although its leader, Isaac Herzog, has denied reports of a secret meeting with Netanyahu, scotching rumors of a deal.
"I said after the election results came in that we were headed to the opposition. That's not by default. That is our preference," he said late Saturday in remarks widely picked up by the Israeli press.
"Netanyahu needed to decide who he was forming a government with, and it is clear that he prefers a rightwing-religious government ... Our place is in the opposition. We will replace the Likud government."
The coalition will have to hit the ground running in order to shore up shattered ties with the administration of US President Barack Obama and address divisions at home.
It will also have to handle an emerging nuclear deal with Iran, vehemently opposed by Netanyahu, as well as the imminent threat of Palestinian legal action at the International Criminal Court.