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Netanyahu addresses supporters. Photo: Noam Moskowitz/picture alliance via Getty

With his mandate to form a government due to expire in two weeks, and his rivals' efforts to form an alternative coalition gaining momentum, Netanyahu has a new strategy: changing the election rules.

Why it matters: If Netanyahu can’t form a coalition by May 4, he will face the real danger of losing the prime minister’s post for the first time in 12 years.

  • The mandate would likely pass to opposition leader Yair Lapid, who would have 28 days to try to form a unity government with Naftali Bennett, the right-wing kingmaker whom both sides have been courting.

The state of play: Netanyahu's only path to a majority would require him to bring in the Islamist Ra'am party, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood.

  • But he has been unable to convince the radical right-wing Religious Zionism party, which includes Jewish supremacists, to join a government supported by Ra'am.
  • Right now, he appears stuck.

Driving the news: Worse, Netanyahu lost a crucial vote on Monday in the Knesset on the formation of the parliamentary committee that will control the Knesset agenda.

  • While Bennett voted with Netanyahu's right-wing bloc, Lapid and another right-wing Netanyahu rival, Gideon Sa'ar, convinced Ra'am to vote with the anti-Netanyahu bloc, giving them a majority.
  • The loss was a major blow for Netanyahu and his Likud party. "We are aware we are probably going to be in the opposition soon. Netanyahu will be the head of the opposition," Likud whip Miki Zohar said after the vote.

In an attempt to prevent the mandate from passing to his rivals, Netanyahu floated an initiative to change the entire Israeli electoral system.

  • His new bill calls for direct elections only for the prime minister's post, to be held in 30 days.
  • The bill is unlikely to pass and would likely be overturned by the Supreme Court if it does because it effectively changes the rules in the middle of the game.

What he's saying: At a press conference on Tuesday, Netanyahu said the snap elections were the only way out of the political crisis.

  • Netanyahu attacked Bennett for trying to form a government with the center-left and called on him to immediately back the electoral changes.

What to watch: The key players are Lapid and Bennett.

  • Lapid offered Bennett the prime minister's post for two years under a rotation agreement, but it's unclear if they've reached any understandings so far.
  • If Netanyahu fails, his former protege will have to decide whether to cross the Rubicon, join forces with the center-left, and replace Netanyahu as prime minister.

Go deeper

Jul 28, 2021 - World

Scoop: Israel weighs a return to UNESCO

Jerusalem’s Old City, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Photo: Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty

The Israeli government is weighing rejoining the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, which Israel left in 2019 together with the U.S., Israeli officials tell me.

Why it matters: An Israeli return to UNESCO, which promotes the preservation of cultural sites around the world and holds educational programs, could help pave the way for the Biden administration to rejoin the organization — and help fend off criticism from Republicans.

At least 3 dead after Amtrak train derails in Montana

Photo: Jacob Cordeiro/Twitter

An Amtrak train derailed near Joplin, Montana, resulting in at least three deaths and multiple injuries to passengers and crew on Saturday, per authorities and a company statement.

The big picture: 141 passengers and 16 crew members were estimated to be on the Empire Builder train, traveling from Chicago to Seattle and Portland, when eight of the 10 cars derailed about 4p.m., Amtrak said early Sunday.

Updated 7 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Federal judge blocks vaccine mandate for NYC teachers

Students are dismissed from the first day of school at PS 133 in Brooklyn on Sept. 13. Photo: Michael Nagle/Xinhua via Getty Images

A federal appeals court is set to hear a challenge Wednesday to a vaccine mandate planned for New York City school employees.

Why it matters The vaccine mandate was set to begin on Monday, prompting concerns over staffing shortages in schools across the nation's largest school system. But a judge on Friday temporarily blocked the measure, per AP.