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Israel's political upheaval continues as new chapter in coalition building begins

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By Trent Murray  & Reuters
Israel's political upheaval continues as new chapter in coalition building begins

After failing to form a government for the second time in two consecutive elections, Benjamin Netanyahu will be forced to watch from the sidelines as his opponent Benny Gantz is given the opportunity to give it a go.

The former Israeli military chief of staff has been given 28 days to try and piece together a working majority. But if like Netanyahu, he's unable to find a path through, Israel could be on track for an unprecedented third election in the space of a year.

But it will be no easy path to ending Netanyahu's long hold on power.

After inconclusive elections in April and September, Gantz's nomination marked the first time since 2008 that someone other than Netanyahu, 70, has been asked by Israel's president to build a ruling coalition.

The Head of the centrist Blue and White party, Gantz accepted the task from President Reuven Rivlin in a televised ceremony.

"Everyone expects us to bring the political chaos to an absolute end," Gantz said, accepting the nomination.

Rivlin gave Netanyahu the chance to form a government first. But the prime minister, who leads the right-wing Likud party, abandoned his efforts on Monday, opening the way for Gantz, his strongest rival.

The path forward

Gantz, who headed Israel's military from 2011 to 2015, has the endorsement of only 54 lawmakers - seven short of a parliamentary majority that neither he nor Netanyahu could manage in either last month's vote or the ballot in April.

Gantz has also balked at including ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties - some of Netanyahu's traditional allies - in his administration.

"I promised to establish a liberal unity government, and that, I intend to do," he said, using political shorthand for an administration that pursues a secular agenda, such as a wider opening of businesses on the Jewish Sabbath."

Differences also emerged in coalition talks over Rivlin's proposal for a rotating premiership, including a possible leave of absence for Netanyahu should he be indicted. Israel's attorney general is expected to announce his decision on charges by the end of the year.

Negotiators from Blue and White and Likud planned to meet again today. In a statement, Likud repeated its call for a broad coalition government, a nod to inclusion of the ultra-Orthodox