Lieberman refuses to back Netanyahu, Gantz as Israel PM

Yisrael Beitenu's party head Avigdor Lieberman. (AFP file photo)

Israeli kingmaker Avigdor Lieberman refused to back either Benjamin Netanyahu or rival Benny Gantz for prime minister Wednesday, pushing the country closer to its third general elections in a year.

The nationalist, whose Yisrael Beitenu party holds the balance of power in the parliament, said neither man had done enough to convince him ahead of a midnight deadline for Gantz to form a government.

"As things stand, we are on our way to new elections," he said.

Incumbent leader Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party and former military general Gantz's centrist Blue and White coalition were nearly deadlocked after September elections, with neither able to command a majority in Israel's 120-seat parliament.

The two have been desperately courting Lieberman's eight seats to break the impasse.

But the former defence minister has been wary of backing Gantz, as his government would need at least the tacit support of the Arab Joint List to govern, something the right winger opposes.

He also accuses Netanyahu of being captive to the whims of ultra-Orthodox Jews, who make up around 10 percent of the population, objecting to the community's exemption from military service.

Lieberman had been seeking a unity government of his party, Likud and Blue and White, but the talks faltered.

"Both are responsible," Lieberman said of Gantz and Netanyahu. "I have done everything in my power to form a unity government."

"If we are dragged to new elections it will be because of a lack of leadership."

Gantz has until 11:59 pm (2159 GMT) Wednesday to cut a deal.

If he fails, lawmakers have 21 days to propose a candidate capable of forming a majority to the president.

If that period passes without a breakthrough, a third election becomes inevitable.

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