Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (file photo) Photograph:( Getty )
The matter now bounces back to President Reuven Rivlin, who announced just after midnight that he would contact on Wednesday the 13 parties with seats in parliament to discuss the continuation of the process of forming a government
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has failed to meet a midnight deadline to put together a new governing coalition, raising the possibility that his Likud party could be pushed into the opposition for the first time in 12 years.
The deadline closed a four-week window granted to Netanyahu by Israel's figurehead president.
The matter now bounces back to President Reuven Rivlin, who announced just after midnight that he would contact on Wednesday the 13 parties with seats in parliament to discuss the continuation of the process of forming a government.
Rivlin is expected in the coming days to give one of Netanyahu's opponents a chance to form an alternative coalition government.
He also could ask the parliament to select one of its own members as prime minister. If all else fails, the country would be forced into another election this fall, the fifth in just over two years.
The turmoil does not mean that Netanyahu will immediately be forced out as prime minister. But he now faces a serious threat to his lengthy rule.
His opponents, despite deep ideological differences, already have been holding informal talks in recent weeks in hopes of forging a power-sharing agreement.
Netanyahu had struggled to secure a parliamentary majority since March 23, when elections ended in deadlock for the fourth consecutive time in the past two years.
Despite repeated meetings with many of his rivals and unprecedented outreach to the leader of a small Islamist Arab party, Netanyahu was unable to close a deal.
Rivlin gave Netanyahu the first chance to form a coalition after 52 members of parliament endorsed him as prime minister last month. That was short of a majority, but the highest number for any party leader.
Opposition leader Yair Lapid, who received the backing of 45 lawmakers, now seems to be the most likely candidate to get a chance to form a government.
Naftali Bennett, head of the small religious, nationalist Yamina party, is also a possibility. Bennett, a former Netanyahu ally turned rival, controls just seven seats in parliament, but he has emerged as a kingmaker of sorts and appears to carry the votes that Lapid would need to secure a parliamentary majority.
Lapid already has said he is ready to share the prime minister's job with Bennett, with Bennett serving first in a rotation. So far, they have not reached any firm agreements.
In a brief statement, Netanyahu's Likud party blamed Bennett for the prime minister's failure.
"Because of Bennett's refusal to commit to a right-wing government, something that would have certainly led to the formation of a government along with other members of Knesset, Prime Minister Netanyahu returned the mandate to the president,” the statement said.
Defence Minister Benny Gantz, leader of the centrist Blue and White party, called on Netanyahu's opponents to line up behind Lapid.
(With inputs from agencies)