Trump says he hopes Netanyahu will manage to form coalition
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Trump says he hopes Netanyahu will manage to form coalition

There is ‘a lot more to do’ in strengthening countries’ ties, US president tweets, amid deadlock threatening to send Israel to fresh elections

US President Donald Trump (right) meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in the Oval Office of the White House, March 5, 2018, in Washington. (AP/Evan Vucci)
US President Donald Trump (right) meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in the Oval Office of the White House, March 5, 2018, in Washington. (AP/Evan Vucci)

US President Donald Trump chimed in Monday on the political turmoil in Israel, expressing hope that despite stalled coalition negotiations, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would be able to form a government in order to further strengthen ties between the countries.

Netanyahu has yet to ink a deal with any of his prospective partners, and progress has stalled amid an impasse between the secular Yisrael Beytenu party and ultra-Orthodox parties on the question of a bill regulating the military draft among the ultra-Orthodox.

As the Wednesday deadline for announcing a new coalition nears, the Knesset on Monday took the first step toward dissolving the parliament and calling a second round of elections within months, as a meeting between Netanyahu and Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman failed to yield progress that could stave off another national vote.

In the midst of the drama, Trump tweeted: “Hoping things will work out with Israel’s coalition formation and Bibi [Netanyahu] and I can continue to make the alliance between America and Israel stronger than ever. A lot more to do!”

US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and US President Donald Trump’s daughter and adviser Ivanka Trump unveil the inauguration plaque during the opening of the US Embassy in Jerusalem on May 14, 2018. (AFP Photo/Menahem Kahana)

Under Trump, Washington has significantly strengthened its alliance with Israel, recognizing Jerusalem as its capital, moving its embassy to the city, recognizing Israeli sovereignty in the Golan Heights and withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal despised by Netanyahu.

The Knesset dissolution vote was widely seen as a pressure tactic to persuade prospective coalition partners to soften their demands, as well as a bid to prevent President Reuven Rivlin from tasking another lawmaker to form a government, should Netanyahu fail to do so by the deadline.

The Blue and White party, which has vowed to not join a government led by Netanyahu, holds the same number of Knesset seats as Likud — 35. On Monday, its leader, Benny Gantz, said that if Netanyahu cannot form a government, he should be given a chance.

The centrist party has no clear path to forming a government, as it has ruled out an alliance with Arab lawmakers, and ultra-Orthodox and right-wing parties have said they will not join a Blue and White government.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and leader of the Yisrael Beyteinu political party Avigdor Liberman sign a coalition agreement in the Israeli parliament on May 25, 2016 (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)

Liberman has repeatedly said he backs Netanyahu for prime minister, but will only join the government if there is a commitment to pass, unaltered, a bill regulating the draft of ultra-Orthodox men into the army. The bill is opposed by ultra-Orthodox parties, which want to soften its terms. Netanyahu needs Yisrael Beytenu and both the Knesset’s ultra-Orthodox parties to form a majority government.

Likud won 35 seats in the April 9 election. The two ultra-Orthodox parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism, each won eight seats. Moshe Kahlon’s center-right Kulanu won four, and the hawkish Union of Right-Wing Parties won five. Together, these parties hold 60 seats in the 120-member Knesset, and Netanyahu also needs the secular, right-wing Yisrael Beytenu party, with its five seats, for a majority.

Netanyahu faces a Wednesday night deadline to form a coalition. But should he fail to build a coalition by then or dissolve the Knesset, the prime minister may be able to buy himself another 14 more days, exercising a never-before-used legal provision, analysts say.

Marissa Newman and AFP contributed to this report.

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