Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a statement to the media in the Israeli Parliament in Jerusalem on December 22, 2020. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

(JTA) — Benjamin Netanyahu has again been chosen to lead Israel’s next government following an election that did not deliver a majority to the prime minister or his rivals.

Netanyahu, who has served as prime minister for more than a decade, does not have a clear path to assembling a majority coalition in Israel’s 120-seat parliament, the Knesset. But he received the support of 52 lawmakers, more than his leading opponent, the centrist Yair Lapid. President Reuven Rivlin, who tapped Netanyahu to form the coalition, cited the math as the reason for his choice.

Netanyahu is also standing trial on corruption charges, the first sitting Israeli prime minister to do so. Netanyahu’s trial complicated the decision for Rivlin, who prizes the integrity of his nation’s political system and has bemoaned the deadlock of the past two years, which has led Israelis to vote in four rounds of inconclusive elections.

“This decision has not been an easy one in my eyes, in terms of morals and values,” Rivlin said Tuesday. “I tremble for my state, for our state, but I am doing what is required of me as president of Israel, bound by the law and the decisions of the court.”

To gain the support of a Knesset majority, Netanyahu must convince at least nine lawmakers who have not pledged themselves to the Likud party head to either vote for his leadership or abstain from the vote so that he gets more votes than his opponents. That may entail partnering with the Islamist Raam party, something that Netanyahu’s far-right allies have ruled out.

Should Netanyahu fail after about a month, Rivlin can choose to tap another lawmaker to form a coalition, or he can throw the decision to the Knesset itself. If neither of those options lead to a government, Israelis will vote in another election — the fifth since 2019.


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