Benjamin Netanyahu has failed to form a coalition government, prolonging a two-year political stalemate in Israel – and putting the country’s longest-serving leader on the defensive as his rivals attempt to topple him.

Following an inconclusive early election on March 23 – the fourth since 2019 – the 71-year-old leader had hoped to conclude what would be a unique and historic partnership in Israeli politics.

Netanyahu sought to forge an agreement between far-right Jewish politicians and a conservative Islamist party called the United Arab List, or Ra’am in Hebrew.

Without such a deal, the prime minister had few other options to form a 61-seat majority government in the 120-seat Knesset, Israel’s parliament.

Netanyahu’s corruption case complicates his efforts and partly explains the political stalemate. Although he denies the charges, some politicians have pledged not to serve under the leadership of a tried prime minister.

Yet while Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party won the most seats in March, it was tasked by Israeli President Reuven Rivlin to form a government within 28 days. As this period expires at midnight on Tuesday, the president has two options.

Rivlin could, as early as Wednesday, give opposition leader Yair Lapid, whose Yesh Atid party finished second in the March vote, another 28 days to try to form a government. Or he could ask parliamentarians to vote on a candidate.

Lapid welcomed this opportunity. He became leader of the opposition after his predecessor, Benny Gantz, lost his support when he struck a power-sharing deal with Netanyahu that ultimately fell apart.

“It’s time for a new government,” Lapid, 57, former TV host and finance minister said Monday. “We can form a government.”

However, there was no guarantee that Lapid could bridge vast ideological differences within the Knesset.

Meanwhile, Naftali Bennett, who was Netanyahu’s defense minister but has since come forward against him, has become a potential kingmaker. The far-right politician has said he wants to oust the prime minister and avoid a potential fifth election – the inevitable outcome if no government is formed.

Netanyahu said he suggested a deal in which Bennett would become prime minister for a year and then return power, but he was quickly rejected. A similar “rotation” agreement between Bennett and Lapid could be considered.

Netanyahu is renowned for his political magic and has often appeared on the verge of losing power since taking office in 1996, only to take it back.

“It’s a day for people with strong nerves,” Sima Kadmon, a political commentator, wrote in the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper. “As always, no one knows what trick Netanyahu intends to pull out of his hat at the last minute.”

However, writing in competing newspaper Israel Hayom, commentator Matti Tuchfeld said the Israeli leader was running out of options: “Even the greatest magician of all time at one point is running out of rabbits.”