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Israel headed for third election in 12 months after deadline expires

It is the latest in a wave of firsts for Israel, after Netanyahu became the first sitting prime minister to be indicted last month.
Image: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Benjamin Netanyahu last month became the first Israeli prime minister to be charged with corruption.Gali Tibbon / Reuters

Israel is headedfor a third national election in 12 months after the deadline for forming a government expired on Wednesday.

It is the latest in a wave of firsts for Israel after Benjamin Netanyahu became the first sitting prime minister to be indicted on corruption charges last month.

The looming election represents a lifeline for the embattled prime minister, whose indictment on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust came just weeks after he failed to cobble together a government in October.

The double blow was perhaps the greatest challenge to his political leadership to date. He denies any wrongdoing and has vowed to stay on as prime minister.

The third election will likely be held on March 2, 2020, a date agreed upon by Netanyahu's Likud party and his chief political rival Benny Gantz's Blue and White party.

It remains unclear whether the Likud party will back Netanyahu as its leader and if so, whether his indictment will upset the political deadlock that has characterized the past two polls.

In an election in September, Netanyahu and Gantz virtually tied, with Blue and White coming in first with 33 seats and Likud trailing behind with 32. Even with allied parties backing them, both men failed to reach the 61-seat majority threshold needed to form a government in the 120-seat Knesset.

Before that, in an election in April, Likud and Blue and White each won 35 seats. Netanyahu had the greatest number of endorsements from other parties, however, so he was able to attempt to form a government first.

In the end, his ambition was scuppered by Avigdor Lieberman, a former ally, who refused to join his coalition, accusing Netanyahu of giving ultra-Orthodox religious parties too much power. That decision left the prime minister one seat short of a parliamentary majority.