The possibility of new Israeli parliament elections loomed large Wednesday, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu unable to form a new government in the waning hours before a midnight deadline.
There was no sign of a breakthrough in the Israeli leader's talks with former defense minister Avigdor Lieberman, whose five-seat bloc in the 120-member Knesset is crucial to Netanyahu's efforts to gain a controlling majority.
But Netanyahu has refused to meet Lieberman's demand that ultra-Orthodox Jews be subject to conscription into the Israeli military as other Israeli Jews are, rather than exempted as they have been.
"Everything stands in the same place where it was," Lieberman said.
Israeli lawmakers are debating whether to dissolve the parliament, triggering new elections just seven weeks after an early April vote appeared to leave Netanyahu in a strong position to form a new government, and become prime minister for a fifth time and the country's longest-serving leader.
Netanyahu and Lieberman, sometimes allies and often rivals through the years, also could reach a last-minute accord, or President Reuven Rivlin could ask another lawmaker to try to form a new government, possibly ending the 69-year-old Netanyahu's hopes of remaining as the leader.
Netanyahu's Likud party said it has enough votes to push through a dissolution of parliament, requiring a new election, to keep Rivlin from tapping another lawmaker to try to form a government.
Netanyahu is also facing the possibility of indictment on bribery, fraud and breach of trust charges in the coming months. He had been hopeful a new parliament would approve legislation granting him immunity.
His wife Sara reached a plea bargain deal herself on Wednesday in a separate corruption case, agreeing to pay a $15,215 fine in a case linked to $100,000 worth of catered meals at the prime minister's residence while concealing the fact that the residence also employed a cook.
The political impasse in Jerusalem came as U.S. President Donald Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, both presidential advisers, were in Amman meeting with Jordan's King Abdullah II about efforts to resolve the decades-long conflict between Israeli and the Palestinians.
Jordan has stood by its support for a two-state solution, while Washington lately has been trying to woo support for economic investment in Israeli-controlled Palestinian territories as a way of improving the well-being of Palestinians.
Jordan has not yet said whether it will attend the June 25-26 meeting in Manama, capital of the Persian Gulf state of Bahrain, where Kushner plans to offer an economic plan, but no details for any political solution or Palestinian statehood.
The Palestinians have said they will not attend the meeting and have rejected the Trump administration's Mideast peace plan.
After the April Israeli elections, Likud emerged tied as the largest bloc in the 120-member parliament. And with the addition of traditional minor party allies, it appeared to be in control with a solid 65-55 majority. But without Lieberman's bloc of five lawmakers in the Yisrael Beiteinu party, Netanyahu cannot reach a Knesset majority.
"The draft law has become a symbol, and we will not capitulate on our symbols," Lieberman said.
Ultra-Orthodox parties consider military conscription a violation of their religious beliefs, fearing that military service will lead to secularization. But such exemptions from military service are widely resented by Israel's other Jews.
Some Likud adherents say Lieberman is motivated by his personal spite for Netanyahu, but Lieberman says he will not give in to religious coercion.
"I will not be a partner to a Halachic state," he said, using the word for Jewish law.
Trump, a staunch Netanyahu ally, took note of the Israeli political impasse while on a state visit last weekend to Japan, referring to his friend by his well-known nickname, Bibi, in a Twitter post,
Hoping things will work out with Israel's coalition formation and Bibi and I can continue to make the alliance between America and Israel stronger than ever. A lot more to do!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 27, 2019