Israel's president formally nominates Netanyahu as PM

Israel's president has formally nominated Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as the candidate to form the next government

JERUSALEM -- Israels president on Wednesday formally nominated Benjamin Netanyahu for a fourth consecutive term as prime minister, officially launching a process that is expected to result in a new government dominated by religious and nationalist parties in the coming weeks.

In one of the presidents few non-ceremonial roles, President Reuven Rivlin tasked Netanyahu with assembling a governing coalition within 42 days.

The move was widely expected after Netanyahus Likud party and its right-wing allies captured a majority of seats in parliamentary elections last week.

In a joint appearance after the two leaders signed and presented the official nomination, Rivlin called on Netanyahu to heal the wounds and rifts laid bare in Israeli society by the bruising election campaign.

Netanyahu said he was moved to accept his fifth nomination as prime minister as though its the first time, and in a certain way, even more than the first time.

He said he would do everything to earn the trust that the citizens of Israel have bestowed on me.

In a post-election ritual, Rivlin hosted consultations with party leaders this week to hear their recommendations for who should serve as the next prime minister.

Netanyahus nationalist and religious allies all lobbied for Netanyahu to continue as prime minister. The last one to hold out, former Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman of the hawkish Yisrael Beitenu party, formally confirmed his support for Netanyahu late Monday.

Netanyahus right-wing bloc — made up of Kulanu, the Union of Right Wing Parties, Yisrael Beitenu and the ultra-Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism — now commands a 65-55 majority in the 120-seat parliament.

In the coming weeks, Netanyahu will have to negotiate coalition deals with his partners, who will jockey for powerful Cabinet posts with large and influential budgets.

If Netanyahu fails to form a coalition within 42 days, Benny Gantz, leader of the rival centrist Blue and White party, would be given a shot at assembling a government.

But that doesnt appear to be in the cards. We will establish a right-wing government as soon as possible, likely within a month, said Yonatan Ulrich, a spokesman for the prime minister.

In a matter of months, Netanyahu will officially become Israels longest-serving prime minister, surpassing David Ben-Gurion, the countrys founding father.