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Israel's Netanyahu Tasked With Forming Next Government

NOEL KING, HOST:

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is supposed to form a new government after an election last week ended in a deadlock. But there is no guarantee that he'll be able to pull that off. He didn't get enough votes to form a stable government, but neither did his challenger Benny Gantz. So Israelis are wondering what happens now.

Naomi Zeveloff has this story.

NAOMI ZEVELOFF, BYLINE: Benjamin Netanyahu needs 61 seats for a majority in Israel's Parliament. As of now, 55 lawmakers have recommended him as prime minister. That's only one more than Benny Gantz of the centrist Blue and White party. Because of Netanyahu's lead, Israel's president gave him the first shot at forming a government. In a speech aired Wednesday night on Israel's Kan news network, Netanyahu acknowledged that his chances on his own are slim.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: (Speaking Hebrew).

ZEVELOFF: "The order of the moment is a unity government," he said, "a broad national unity government - and I would say, quickly."

But Gantz and Netanyahu already tried and failed to create a shared government. After the election, Israel's president brought them together for unity talks. Those talks went nowhere.

At an outdoor cafe in Jaffa, near Tel Aviv, one Israeli spoke for many in saying she was skeptical that Netanyahu can wrangle enough lawmakers to support him. Perszi Gall (ph) said she wants him to fail so that his competitor can try.

PERSZI GALL: I think that Netanyahu has to go home. It's enough, and it's quite complicated. I don't think he is - he will be able to have a government.

ZEVELOFF: Looming over Netanyahu is the possibility he will be indicted on accusations of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. Next week, Israel's attorney general will hold a hearing to consider charging him. Gantz won't budge on partnering with Netanyahu's Likud party if Netanyahu remains in charge.

In a statement on Wednesday, he said, quote, "Blue and White, led by me, does not agree to sit in a government whose leader is facing a severe indictment." Netanyahu has called the allegations a, quote, "witch hunt" and says he is innocent. In a speech, Israel's President Reuven Rivlin said that Israelis agree on one thing in the wake of the second election in less than six months.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT REUVEN RIVLIN: (Speaking Hebrew).

ZEVELOFF: "The people," he said, "don't want further elections."

For NPR News, I'm Naomi Zeveloff in Tel Aviv.

(SOUNDBITE OF TOMC BEATZ'S "DEEP SIDE RIDE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Naomi Zeveloff

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