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Israel

Israel's Netanyahu gains more time to build coalition

Israeli President Shimon Peres has given Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a two-week extension to form a new coalition government. Netanyahu was unable to complete the task during an initial 28-day period.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday was given an additional 14 days to try to form a new government.

"I am giving you another two weeks, by law, to complete the task of forming the government," Peres told Netanyahu during a televised statement at the presidential residence.

If Netanyahu is unable to form a government by March 16, Peres will then have to ask a different member of parliament to try to form a government. And if after an additional period no government emerges, Israelis would have to return to the polls.

Netanyahu's Likud-Beitenu party emerged as the largest in the January 22 election, winning 31 of the Knesset's 120 seats. However, during the 28-day period, Netanyahu only managed to unite former foreign minister, Tzipi Livni's HaTnuah party, gaining a total of 37 seats - falling far short of the minimum 61 seats needed.

Since the election, Netanyahu has faced demands from the Yesh Atid and Jewish Home parties to cut exemptions from military conscription and welfare stipends to ultra-Orthodox Jews. As a result, the two parties have also formed a pact that neither would enter a coalition without the other.

In a brief statement following his meeting with Peres on Saturday night, Netanyahu, without naming the parties, referred to a "boycott" that prevented him from successfully forming a coalition on time.

"In these past four weeks I tried to form the broadest possible government ... I think the ultra-Orthodox public is prepared to accept (demands by other partners) but the main reason that I have not managed to complete the task by today is... because there is a boycott of a certain sector," he said.

hc/lw (Reuters, AFP)