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Israeli president picks Netanyahu to try and form government

Jerusalem: Israel's president on Tuesday handed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the difficult task of trying to form a government from the country's splintered parliament, giving the embattled leader a chance to prolong his lengthy term in office while on trial for corruption charges.

In his announcement, President Reuven Rivlin acknowledged that no party leader had the necessary support to form a majority coalition in the 120-seat Knesset. He also noted that many believe Netanyahu is unfit to serve in light of his legal problems.

Nonetheless, he said that there was nothing in the law preventing Netanyahu from serving as prime minister and that after consulting with the 13 parties in the newly elected parliament, he believed that Netanyahu had the best chance of any candidate of forming a new

government.

No candidate has a realistic chance of forming a government that will have the confidence of the Knesset, Rivlin said. But, he said, Netanyahu has a slightly higher chance of being able to.

"I have decided to entrust him with the task," Rivlin said from Jerusalem. Netanyahu now has up to six weeks to try to cobble together a coalition during his trial.

The decision nudged forward the twin dramas over the country's future and Netanyahu's fate, giving Israel's longest-serving premier a fresh chance to try to salvage his career.

Though Netanyahu currently lacks a majority of support and is on trial, Rivlin nonetheless said he has the best chance of being able to cobble together a governing coalition.

Netanyahu now has up to six weeks to complete the task and avoid sending Israel to an unprecedented fifth consecutive election.

Rivlin issued the mandate with something short of full-throated support, pointing out that moral questions hovered over the decision.

Netanyahu holds the most support - 52 seats - in Israel's splintered Knesset. But that is still short of a 61-seat majority.

He is likely to use his powers of persuasion to try to lure a number of opponents, including a number of former close aides who have vowed never to serve under him again, with generous offers of powerful government ministries or legislative

committees.

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