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Yair Lapid receives mandate to form Israeli government, oust Netanyahu

Opposition leader Yair Lapid has received a mandate from Israel's president to form a new government, putting Benjamin Netanyahu in the most vulnerable position he has faced politically since becoming prime minister in 2009.

The big picture: Netanyahu failed to form a government before his mandate expired overnight, but his rivals still have hurdles to clear before they can oust him. That means the political crisis that has gripped Israel over the last two years is far from over.

Driving the news: President Reuven Rivlin held consultations with Israel's political parties today over the mandate decision, with both the centrist Lapid and right-wing kingmaker Naftali Bennett putting themselves forward.

  • As expected, Rivlin opted to give the mandate to Lapid, who has managed to get 56 members of the Knesset to support him so far, including the six members of Gideon Sa'ar’s breakaway right-wing party.
  • In a press conference this morning, Bennett said he was determined to prevent a fifth election and would thus work to form a unity government with Lapid and the center-left. He called on all right-wing parties to join the unity government.
  • Lapid and Bennett are expected to resume power-sharing negotiations toward a government that would see Bennett serve first as prime minister for two years before Lapid rotates into the job.

But, but, but: Netanyahu has been applying intense pressure on Bennett and his party members to deter them from joining a government with the center-left bloc.

  • That campaign has started bearing fruit. One member of Bennett’s party announced he's against a power-sharing government with Lapid, but didn't state clearly whether he'd vote against it.
  • A Lapid-Bennett government would only have the support of 58 members of the 120-seat Knesset, with the Arab parties likely to abstain. Therefore the cracks in Bennett’s party could sabotage the whole effort.

What’s next: Lapid will have 28 days to try and form a new government.

  • If he fails, there will be another 21-day period in which any member of the Knesset who can get signatures from 61 members will receive the mandate. Failing that, Israel will have its fifth consecutive election.
  • Netanyahu would likely use that 21-day window to try and convince some of his right-wing allies to soften their position on forming a government supported by the Islamist Ra'am Party, which would allow him to remain prime minister.

But first, he'll do everything in his power to prevent Lapid from forming a government.

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