JERUSALEM, Israel -- It seems Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is having a hard time putting together a coalition. If he hasn't succeeded by next Friday, he may request a two-week extension, giving him until March 15.
On February 2, President Shimon Peres appointed Netanyahu to form the next government, based on the recommendations of 82 out of the 120-member legislature, including 50 freshman members of Knesset.
In the swearing-in ceremony for the 19th Knesset, Netanyahu called for a broad unity government to tackle the serious issues facing the country. Many assumed that would include the election's second- and third-place winners, which together have the same 31 seats as Netanyahu's party.
The unexpected second-place win by Yair Lapid's center-left party and third place by Naftali Bennett's right-wing party defied many of the pre-election polls and surprised a lot of people.
"That's the big news. It's very much a center, centrist picture," Israeli political analyst David Benjamin told CBN News the day after elections. "That's what coming out here. That's what the Israeli electorate is looking like."
Resolving compulsory military and national service by the ultra-Orthodox community --and related issues among the Haredim -- is central to Lapid's party platform.
Israelis who voted (68 percent of the population) also gave significant backing to Bennett's party, which advocates annexing Judea and Samaria (the "West Bank") and opposes re-dividing Jerusalem (as it was from 1948 until the 1967 Six-Day War under Jordanian occupation).
But what seemed obvious to the electorate didn't happen. Netanyahu, instead, courted parties in the opposition, along with his traditional partners, the ultra-Orthodox Shas Party, which opposes military service for yeshiva (Torah seminary) students.
Tuesday's announcement welcoming The Tzipi Livni Party as the first to join the coalition seemed not to go over well among many Israelis, particularly appointing her to lead negotiations with the Palestinian Authority.
"To let Tzipi Livni conduct these negotiations is like saying that a serious traffic offender can be the police chief of traffic," Samaria Regional Council head Gershon Mesika said, calling it a "strategic error" and "political folly."
And while a new Israeli government hangs in limbo, the Palestinian Authority is egging on its residents to wage a "popular intifada," political analyst Khaled Abu Toameh writes in a Friday post on the Gatestone Institute's website.
"The Palestinian Authority leadership is hoping that the anti-US protests will scare Obama and force him to exert even more pressure on Israel," Toameh says. "The Palestinian Authority's message to Obama: You must act quickly against Israel before things get out of hand."
With Obama due to arrive in Israel on March 22, the next few weeks will be critical ones for Netanyahu and the whole country.