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“Israeli kingmaker politician Avigdor Lieberman on Wednesday refused to endorse a candidate for prime minister, blaming both the contenders engaged in a tense standoff that has paralyzed Israeli politics and pushing the country toward a likely third election in less than a year.
Lieberman’s comments came ahead of a midnight deadline for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s rival, Benny Gantz, to form a coalition. Without Lieberman, Gantz appears unable to secure the required majority in parliament to be prime minister.
If Israel is forced into a third election, it would be entering uncharted waters, with opinion polls already predicting a very similar deadlock. But a new campaign could benefit the embattled Netanyahu, who is expected to be indicted on corruption charges in the coming weeks. Netanyahu would be best-positioned to fight any charges from the prime minister’s office.
Lieberman, who heads a small secular, ultranationalist party, triggered the September election after refusing to join Netanyahu’s traditional allies of hard-line and religious parties following earlier elections in April. The do-over vote left Netanyahu’s Likud and Gantz’s Blue and White party both short of a required majority in the 120-seat parliament without Lieberman’s support.
Lieberman, who hails from the former Soviet Union, has objected to the outsize influence of ultra-Orthodox religious parties and has urged Netanyahu and Gantz to join him in a unity government as a way out of the stalemate. But Gantz and Netanyahu have refused to bend on their core conditions for such an arrangement.
After weeks of negotiations, Lieberman told reporters he wouldn’t align with either party on its own.
“I made every effort. I turned over every stone,” he said. “There were no significant gaps, they were mainly personal gaps and after it all, at least for now, it seems we are heading for another election.””
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