Netanyahu formally named next Israeli PM

"This is the fifth time I am taking on the task of putting together the government of Israel," Netanyahu said at Wednesday's ceremony.
Netanyahu formally named next Israeli PM

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin on Wednesday formally handed Benjamin Netanyahu his letter of appointment to start building a coalition government following last week's general election.

In a televised ceremony, Rivlin told Netanyahu that inconsultations with all parties elected to the incoming 120-seat parliament,"65 MPs recommended you." Rivlin had sounded out delegations from politicalparties on Monday and Tuesday.

Only 45 members supported his main rivals from the Blue andWhite alliance led by ex-military chief Benny Gantz, with the 10 members of theArab parties recommending nobody.

"This is the fifth time I am taking on the task ofputting together the government of Israel," Netanyahu said at Wednesday'sceremony.

"There is no greater privilege in democraticlife." British Prime Minister Theresa May welcomed Netanyahu's fifth termon her official Twitter account.

"Congratulations to PM Netanyahu on being asked to forma new Israeli government," she wrote. "The UK's relationship withIsrael is of great importance and I look forward to deepening thisfurther." In his remarks Rivlin referred to the election campaign, whichcandidates and commentators agreed had been exceptionally brutal.

"Things were said that should not have been said, fromall sides," he said. Netanyahu then pledged to serve all Israelis,opponents as well as supporters.

"I am well aware of the size of the responsibilityplaced upon my shoulders and shall act as the envoy of all of the people, thosewho voted for me and those who did not," he said.

He now has 28 days to form a government, with a possibleextension of a further two weeks.

The results from the April 9 election put Netanyahu oncourse to become Israel's longest-serving prime minister later this year,surpassing the state's founding father David Ben-Gurion.

The 69-year-old's first task will be to reconcile divergentdemands from his likely coalition partners.

They include ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties and the stronglysecular Yisrael Beitenu of former defence minister Avigdor Lieberman.

Netanyahu's outgoing government was seen as the mostright-wing in Israel's history, and the next is expected to be similar if notfurther to the right.

Lieberman has said he would condition his joining thecoalition on the adoption of a law aimed at drafting ultra-Orthodox Jews intothe military like their secular counterparts.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews studying at religious seminaries arecurrently exempt from mandatory military service, a situation many Israelis seeas unfair.

But attempts to change the law have met with strongopposition from ultra-Orthodox political parties, which won 16 seats in theincoming parliament.

On Tuesday, United Torah Judaism — one of the twoultra-Orthodox parties at hand — stressed they were not prepared to compromiseover Lieberman's demands, even at the risk of Netanyahu failing to form acoalition.

"We have already proven we won't have a problem to faceanother election," the party said in a statement.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews make up some 10 percent of Israel'spopulation of nearly nine million.

The coming months are also expected to see the unveiling ofUS President Donald Trump's long-awaited plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Trump has shown no sign so far that he would be willing tomake significant demands of his close ally Netanyahu in connection with hisplan, though even minor concessions to the Palestinians could spark oppositionfrom the Israeli premier's far-right coalition partners.

But the biggest danger hanging over Netanyahu is hispotential indictment on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.

Israel's attorney general has announced his intention toindict Netanyahu, pending an upcoming hearing. He would be the country's firstsitting prime minister to be indicted.

Netanyahu is not legally required to resign if indicted,only if convicted with all appeals exhausted, but political pressure wouldlikely be intense.

Many analysts said one of Netanyahu's main motivations incalling early elections was to be able to confront the charges with a freshelectoral mandate behind him.

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