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Israeli President Asks Netanyahu to Try to Form Unity Government

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, right, shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, Sept. 25, 2109.

Israel's president has asked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to try to form a new government after last week's deadlocked elections that have paralyzed the country.

The office of President Reuven Rivlin made the announcement after meeting Wednesday with Netanyahu and his primary challenger, Benny Gantz.

Rivlin has the responsibility of selecting the candidate he believes has the best chance of forming a coalition government after neither Netanyahu nor Gantz captured the required support of the parliamentary majority.

Rivlin mediated two previous meetings this week between the politicians, hoping to reach a deal between Netanyahu's conservative Likud party and Gantz's centrist and liberal Blue and White alliance.

FILE - Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz delivers a statement in Tel Aviv, Israel, Sept. 19, 2019.
FILE - Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz delivers a statement in Tel Aviv, Israel, Sept. 19, 2019.

The talks ended, though, because of disagreements over who should lead a new unity government.

Gantz has said he would not participate in a Netanyahu-led government because of the prime minister's legal problems.

Netanyahu is desperate to remain as prime minister amid an ongoing corruption investigation against him. The country's attorney general recommends charging Netanyahu fraud, bribery and breach of trust stemming from a number of scandals.

Netanyahu, who denies any wrongdoing, is scheduled to appear before the attorney general next week, after which a decision on the charges is expected.

Final election results announced Wednesday show the Blue and White won 33 seats in the 120-seat parliament, one more than the Likud's 32 seats. Even with the support of other allies, both parties remain short of the required 61-seat majority.

Israeli law gives the president's first choice to form a government six weeks to achieve the task. If he fails, the president can task another candidate. A second failure could enable a majority of parliament to nominate a third person as prime minister. Yet another failure would force Israel to hold its third election in less than a year.