JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has missed a midnight deadline for putting together a new coalition government.
His failure to reach an agreement late Tuesday raises the possibility that Netanyahu’s Likud party could be pushed into the opposition for the first time in 12 years.
The matter now bounces back to Israel’s figurehead president, Reuven Rivlin, who is expected to consult with leaders of the parties elected to parliament in March before deciding how to proceed.
The turmoil does not mean that Netanyahu will immediately be forced out as prime minister. But he suddenly faces a serious threat to his lengthy rule. His opponents already have been holding informal talks in recent weeks to lay the groundwork for a power-sharing deal.
He suffered a last minute defeat late Tuesday after a key committee failed to hold a vote on his proposal to stage direct elections for the premiership. A main rival, Benny Gantz, said Netanyahu “failed again to form a government. It is now your duty to think of the country, to look honestly at reality and concede your failure.”
Netanyahu had struggled to secure a parliamentary majority since March 23 — when elections ended in deadlock for the fourth consecutive time in the past two years.
In the election, Netanyahu’s Likud emerged as the largest single party, with 30 seats in the 120-member parliament. But to form a government, he needed to have the support of a 61-seat majority. That task has been complicated in large part by members of his own religious and nationalist base.