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Netanyahu rushes to piece together coalition as deadline closes in

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is under pressure to put together a ruling coalition in the next 12 hours. The far-right Jewish Home party is Netanyahu's only alternative.

Political parties in Israel were locked in negotiations to form a coalition government Wednesday, with

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

trying to seal a deal with the far-right Jewish Home party. If the talks succeeded, Netanyahu would have the minimum 61 seats necessary for his coalition to have a majority in the 120-member Knesset.

If Netanyahu failed, Reuven Rivlin of the center-left Zionist Union would be the next most likely candidate to be called upon to form the government.

Netanyahu had initially called for snap elections last December after he admitted that his coalition did not allow for stable decisions. However, Netanyahu's close ally, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and his anti-Arab party Yisrael Beitenu withdrew their support at the last minute, forcing Netanyahu to look for partners elsewhere,

even though his Likud party won the polls.

Netanyahu has time until 2100 GMT, when he will have to inform President Rivlin about the status of his coalition. So far, Likud has managed the support of the center-right Kulanu and two orthodox parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism.

The Jewish Home's special demands

The Jewish Home seemed to be the only alternative left for Netanyahu, but its leader, Naftali Bennett, upped his stakes by demanding ministerial posts for all members in his faction. Bennett was also insisting on the justice ministry portfolio, which Netanyahu wanted to keep for his right-wing Likud party.

However, Ayelet Shaked, the Jewish Home MP who would take over as justice minister, was attempting to curb the Supreme Court's powers. Last year, Shaked proposed a bill which would reduce the court's ability to overturn legislation which it found to be unconstitutional. The bill was tabled following a case where the court said the state could not jail African asylum seekers without trial.

If the Likud party fails at forming the government, the president will most likely choose center-left Labor Party's Isaac Herzog to form the government in the next 28 days. If Herzog is also unsuccessful, Tel Aviv may have to call new elections within 90 days.

mg/bw (AFP, dpa)

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