The Latest: Netanyahu challenger fails to form coalition

JERUSALEM (AP) — The Latest on Israeli politics (all times local):

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8:05 p.m.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s challenger says he has failed to form a governing coalition by a Wednesday deadline.

Wednesday’s announcement by Benny Gantz deals a major setback to his hopes of replacing the long-serving Netanyahu and could set the stage for the country’s third election in under a year.

Gantz had been tapped by the country’s president to form a government after Netanyahu failed at the task last month. But like Netanyahu, Gantz was unable to muster the support of a majority in the 120-seat parliament.

He said he had informed Israel’s president, Reuven Rivlin, of his decision.

With his announcement, parliament has 21 days to rally behind Gantz, Netanyahu or a third dark-horse candidate. If that fails, the country would be forced to hold elections in March.

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1:25 p.m.

Israeli kingmaker Avigdor Lieberman has refused to endorse a candidate for prime minister, practically pushing the nation toward a new, third election this year.

Lieberman’s comments on Wednesday were widely anticipated as a midnight deadline closes in on Benny Gantz’s window to present a coalition government.

If Gantz fails, which is now all but guaranteed, the country enters the final 21-day period for a candidate to present a majority before new elections are called.

Neither Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nor his chief challenger Gantz has the required majority to build a coalition government with like-minded allies. Lieberman has refused to give either the nudge for the required majority in Israel’s 120-seat parliament and has urged them to join in a unity government as a way out of the stalemate but those efforts have failed.

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8:50 a.m.

Israel faces the increasing likelihood of a third election after another fruitless meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his chief challenger Benny Gantz.

Neither Netanyahu nor Gantz have the required majority to build a coalition government. Kingmaker Avigdor Lieberman has refused to give either the nudge for the required majority in Israel’s 120-seat parliament and has urged them to join in a unity government as a way out of the stalemate.

But Gantz and Netanyahu have refused to bend on their conditions for such an agreement. Their meeting late Tuesday made no headway.

Gantz has a midnight deadline Wednesday to present a potential coalition government. If he fails, as expected, the country enters the final 21-day period for a candidate to present a majority before new elections are called.