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Israel: Lieberman refuses to back either Netanyahu or Gantz as deadline looms

Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu party won eight seats in September elections, making him the kingmaker in efforts to form a unity government
Yisrael Beitenu's party head Avigdor Lieberman delivers a statement to the press in Knesset (AFP)

Israel is moving closer to a third legislative election after Yisrael Beiteinu party leader, Avigdor Lieberman, announced on Wednesday that he would not join a coalition government headed by Benny Gantz, the leader of Blue and White political alliance.

Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel Our Home) won eight seats in September elections, ranking it fourth after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, Blue and White, and the Arab Joint List, a coalition of parties representing Palestinian citizens of Israel.

These seats in the Knesset made Lieberman the kingmaker of Israeli politics, as Netanyahu and Gantz have successively been tasked with trying to form a coalition government.

Netanyahu failed to do so before the imposed deadline in October, and with Gantz's deadline set for midnight on Wednesday, the odds are high that the former army chief will also come out empty handed.

In his speech Wednesday, Lieberman said that he had held talks with Netanyahu and Gantz in recent days, but that both the incumbent and aspiring prime minister had attempted to make coalitions including "anti-Zionist" parties - referring to the Ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties Netanyahu has long courted, as well as Gantz's attempts to rally to his cause leaders of the Palestinian community of Israel.

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

“I made every effort. I turned over every stone... As things stand, we are on our way to new elections," Lieberman said.

Gantz has less than 12 hours to form a government. If he fails, Israeli MPs have 21 days to decide which political leader should have a mandate to form a government.

But Israel could head to a third election within a year if parliamentarians cannot agree on a new prime minister.