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Israel Swears in New Parliament Amid Political Deadlock

Israel Swears in New Parliament Amid Political Deadlock

Thursday, 3 October, 2019 - 14:30
Attorney Yossi Ashkenazi representing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives at the Ministry of Justice in Jerusalem for the second day of pre-indictment hearing in the corruption case of Netanyahu, Thursday, Oct. 3, 2019. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

Israel was swearing in its newly elected parliament on Thursday in a ceremony for what could be a very short term after the country´s second inconclusive election of the year left it with no new government on the horizon.

The event also takes place in parallel to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu´s high-profile pre-indictment hearing on corruption charges, which have threatened to end his political career and contributed to the current paralysis of the country´s political system.

Neither Netanyahu nor his chief rival Benny Gantz has been able to build a parliamentary majority with their natural allies. They now depend on each other for a unity government as the only likely alternative to an unprecedented third election in less than a year.

Talks between the two sides appear to have stalled, though, with Netanyahu insisting on remaining prime minister and holding on to his ultra-Orthodox and nationalist partners. Gantz´s centrist Blue and White party is sticking to its election campaign vow not to sit with Netanyahu because of his perilous legal standing.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has recommended that Netanyahu be indicted on fraud, breach of trust and bribery charges in three separate cases. Under Israeli law, Netanyahu is entitled to plead his case at a hearing in a last-ditch attempt to persuade prosecutors to drop their case.

For a second day in a row, Netanyahu´s team of lawyers held a marathon session at the Justice Ministry in Jerusalem trying to get the looming charges nixed. The first two days so far have focused on the most damaging case against Netanyahu: suspicions that he promoted regulation worth hundreds of millions of dollars to Israel's Bezeq telecom company in return for favorable coverage in Bezeq's subsidiary news site, Walla.

Netanyahu has long promised he´d clear his name in the hearing, and his lawyers say they will prove that no quid pro quo was involved.

In the meantime, Netanyahu is desperately trying to stay in power. He´s headed a caretaker government for much of the year after failing to build a coalition government following the initial elections in April.

The repeat vote last month left him even more weakened, with Gantz´s Blue and White finishing first with 33 seats in the 120-seat parliament, just ahead of Netanyahu's Likud with 32 seats. Netanyahu edged Gantz, however, 55-54 in the number of lawmakers who recommend him as prime minister and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin therefore tasked him first with trying to form a coalition.

Netanyahu has up to six weeks to do so, but he has indicated he will give up before then if he feels he can´t reach a deal with Gantz. The former military chief would then likely be given a chance to try so himself, though his odds of success appear equally slim. After that, Rivlin can either task an alternative lawmaker or, more likely, call new elections again.

Both Netanyahu and Gantz have expressed general support for a unity government between their parties as a way out of the deadlock but they remain far apart on who should lead it and what smaller parties would join them.

The previous Israeli parliament had the shortest stint in history, lasting just over four months. There´s no guarantee the current one will be any longer.

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