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Netanyahu Wins Majority of Knesset Recommendations for Prime Minister


JERUSALEM, Israel - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won the support of a majority of Knesset members Tuesday, virtually securing him the task of forming Israel's 35th government. 

President Reuven Rivlin consulted with Knesset party members on Monday and Tuesday to determine who will be the country's next prime minister. The Knesset's bloc of right-wing parties overwhelmingly recommended Netanyahu over Blue and White leader Benny Gantz. 

The Times of Israel reports that Netanyahu has the backing on 61 Knesset members (MKs), a majority of the 120-seat Knesset. Gantz has just 41 seats backing him so far.

Rivlin will meet with all of the parties before selecting Netanyahu to form the new government. 

For the first time in Israel's history, the recommendations were broadcast live. Rivlin's office said the decision to broadcast live was "in the name of transparency."

Rivlin's final decision on who will form the next government will happen Wednesday evening. Rivlin will invite the chosen prime minister to the President's Residence. 

If Netanyahu is commissioned, as expected, his task to form a government will be complicated by infighting among the right of center parties, especially between the religious parties and the secular Israel Beiteinu party headed by Avigdor Lieberman. 

Lieberman, whose party won five seats in last week's elections, is demanding that he be named defense minister in the new government. Even more unacceptable to the religious parties is his demand that Israel moves to enact a law forcing religious youths to enlist in Israel's armed forces. The law would make draft dodgers subject to criminal penalties.

The religious parties, Shas, United Torah Judaism (UTJ) and the URWP (Union of Right-Wing Parties) hold at least 20 seats between them. They have agreed to unite to counter Lieberman. UTJ member Moshe Gafni told the Ashkenazi Haredi daily, "If our positions are not accepted, there will not be a coalition. It is inconceivable that Lieberman, with his five seats, would establish terms (contrary to the beliefs of) three larger parties."

Meanwhile, President Rivlin is urging a national unity government between Netanyahu's Likud party and the Blue and White party led by Benny Gantz.  Those two parties finished far ahead of all the others and would create a government with at least a 70-seat majority. But Gabi Ashkenazi, a former IDF chief of staff and spokesman for Blue and White, said Monday that his party currently would not join such a coalition.

Whomever Rivlin chooses to be Prime Minister will have 28 days to build a coalition, with a possible two-week extension at the end of that time if no government has emerged.

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