JERUSALEM—Israels two biggest parties agreed on a March 2 election date on Monday, barring a last-minute power-sharing deal, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fighting for political survival under criminal indictment.
A 21-day period in which parliament can nominate a legislator with majority support to try to put together a ruling coalition expires at 2200 GMT on Wednesday, triggering the legislatures dissolution and an election within 90 days.
It would be Israels third national ballot in less than a year. Recent opinion polls have predicted no dramatic shifts among voters since inconclusive elections in April and September.
Neither Netanyahus right-wing Likud party nor the centrist Blue and White party led by his main rival, former military chief Benny Gantz, won enough seats in parliament for a governing majority in the previous two contests.
Both men were delgated the task of forming a coalition, but failed, throwing the ball into parliaments court. Their parties have been deadlocked in talks on a “unity” administration in which Netanyahu and Gantz would take turns as prime minister.
The two parties, which disagree over which man would serve first and for how long, announced they had agreed on the March 2 election date. The date needs parliaments approval but the two parties dominate the assembly so it is sure to pass.
The political disarray and a long-running corruption investigation have threatened to curtail Netanyahus decade-long hold on power. Last month, Netanyahu, 70, was charged with bribery, breach of trust, and fraud.
Denying any wrongdoing, he has accused Israels legal authorities of attempting a “coup” aimed at ousting a popular right-wing leader. Critics alleged that Netanyahu was trying to undermine the rule of law and set an election campaign theme portraying himself as the victim of a “deep state” conspiracy.