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'Elections are coming': Lieberman all but consigns Israel to fresh polls

Israel's kingmaker dismisses attempts by Gantz and Netanyahu to win his support, saying the country needs a majority government
Yisrael Beiteinu party leader, Avigdor Lieberman, looking at his watch during a speech (Reuters)

Israel is fastening its seat belts for a third election in a year, after talks between Yisrael Beiteinu party leader Avigdor Lieberman and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to form a government failed, Ynet reported.

Following September's election - a re-run of April's inconclusive polls - Israel's political parties have failed to form a government. 

Politicians now have a week to try to cobble together a coalition before President Reuven Rivlin is forced to announce a third election, which would be held in March.

Any chance to avoid repeat polls largely rests on Yisrael Beiteinu, a right-wing nationalist party that won eight seats in September, placing it as the fourth-largest after Netanyahu’s Likud, Benny Gantz's Blue and White, and the Arab Joint List, a coalition of parties representing Palestinian citizens of Israel.

'The combination of dramatic defence and economic decisions with a narrow government is likely to create a large rift and polarisation in the public'

- Avigdor Lieberman

These seats made Lieberman the kingmaker of Israeli politics, as his backing could place either Netanyahu or Gantz in power with a slender majority.

Instead Lieberman has pushed for a unity government made up of the two rivals' parties, and on Thursday confirmed to Ynet he would refuse to back any candidate that would rule with a thin majority.

“The combination of dramatic defence and economic decisions with a narrow government is likely to create a large rift and polarisation in the public,” he said.

“Elections are coming.”

Lieberman is a secular far-right Zionist and is staunchly opposed to Ultra-Orthodox influence in Israeli politics. He has called Palestinian citizens of Israel a “fifth column” in the country.

Netanyahu failed to form a coalition government before the imposed deadline in October, and Gantz also came out empty-handed from talks in November.

A meeting between Netanyahu and Gantz on Tuesday broke down after 45 minutes.

“Our hands are clean,” Lieberman said.

“To my regret, both of them [Gantz and Netanyahu] took a strategic decision to not go to unity, and therefore the two parties are responsible for another round of elections.”