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In Israel, the twin dramas point to Netanyahu’s difficult path

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) – Israel’s future և Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s fate was ousted in court և in the political arena as the president pondered whether corruption allegations against the prime minister should affect his choice of government.

The extraordinary decision before President Reuven Rivlin comes after Netanyahu’s trial reopened on a day that could shed light on who, if any, could lead a divided government after the fourth election in two years.

The March 23 vote revolved around the question of whether Israel’s longest-serving prime minister would be eligible for the post. It did not give the ruling Knesset a majority in the 120-seat Knesset, leaving Rivlin to choose a party leader who is likely to form a coalition. Parliament was due to be sworn in late Tuesday.

Netanyahu was not expected to appear in court on Tuesday, but his growing alarming future lay in two areas.

His Likud party won the most seats in politics, but did not win a majority.

In a court where he has been charged with fraud, breach of trust and bribery in three separate cases, the outlook was not bright. On Monday, a key witness introduced Netanyahu as a picture-driven leader who forced a popular news site to help his family scatter his opponents.

Netanyahu denies all allegations, accusing prosecutors in a national television message of trying to oust him.

“This is what the coup attempt looks like,” he said.

Although the decision could take months or even years, the trial was to take place three days a week, a disgraceful and time-consuming deviation that would certainly raise Netanyahu’s calls to step aside.

A few miles away, Rivlin consulted with various parties elected to parliament before he could choose a candidate to form a new government. Negotiations threatened to plunge the country into an unprecedented fifth consecutive election.

According to Israeli media, Rivlin is discussing another factor that hints at Netanyahu’s legal difficulties. During a meeting with the Likud party, Rivlin said that “electing a prime minister could be a moral component,” but he did not know whether it was up to him or the Supreme Court.

With both Netanyahu and his main rival, Yair Lapid, unable to win the support of a majority of lawmakers, Rivlin faces a difficult task, choosing a leader who is likely to form a governing coalition with 61 votes.

Late Wednesday night, Lapid called on the country’s anti-Netanyahu factions, a group of parties with huge ideological differences, to put aside their differences and form a unity government. He said he had even proposed a rotation of power to Naftali Bennett, the leader of the lower-right party, in which Bennett was prime minister.

“Anyone who has seen Netanyahu’s reckless work today understands that he can not continue his work,” Lapid said on Tuesday.

On Monday, Netanyahu held a trial in which the evidentiary phase of his trial took place. The meeting discussed the most serious case against Netanyahu, in which he is accused of promoting regulations that have made hundreds of millions of dollars in profits for the telecommunications company Bezeq in exchange for positive coverage of the well-known news site Walla.

Ilan Yeshua, Valla’s former editor-in-chief, described a system in which Bezek’s owners, Shaul և Iris Elovi:, repeatedly pressured him to publish positive things about Netanyahu and to slander the prime minister’s rivals.

The explanation given by the couple. “This is what the prime minister wanted,” he said.

In a televised statement, Netanyahu accused prosecutors of “witch-hunting” against him.

The intertwined political issue was hovering. Rivlin has until midnight Wednesday to elect a new prime minister, who will be given six weeks to form a coalition. If he feels that there is no clear choice, he can refer the matter directly to the Knesset, ordering lawmakers to elect a new Prime Minister or force other elections.

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Associated Press writer Ilan Ben Zion contributed to this report from Jerusalem.

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Follow Kelman on Twitter: http://www.Twitter.com/APLaurieKellman

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