Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem on Sunday. Photo: AFP

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday he believed an agreement to form a new coalition government was still possible, amid mounting speculation over the possibility of fresh elections only days ahead of a deadline.

Netanyahu has been unable to reach an agreement with potential coalition partners despite results from April 9 polls giving his Likud party and its right-wing and religious allies a majority in parliament.

Negotiations have broken down over legislation aimed at requiring ultra-Orthodox Jews to perform mandatory military service like other Jewish Israelis.

The deadline for Netanyahu to form a coalition is Wednesday.

Holding elections so close to one another would be unprecedented for Israel.

“I think that the problem can be solved with goodwill, if that’s what people want,” Netanyahu said at the start of a cabinet meeting.

“If there’s not a desire, and things are being aimed in a certain direction, it’s unfortunate. I don’t think the country needs to be dragged to another election, but there might be someone who wants that.”

Avigdor Lieberman, who is likely to become defense minister under a coalition deal, has pushed for a guarantee that a bill he backs on ultra-Orthodox military conscription be passed.

The ultra-Orthodox parties have refused to support this reform.

Netanyahu needs both Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu party and the ultra-Orthodox to form the coalition he is seeking.

Likud and its allies hold 65 seats in the 120-seat parliament, including Yisrael Beitenu’s five and the ultra-Orthodox parties’ 16.

A Likud spokesman said Sunday that “if Lieberman continues to insist on taking down the government, the Likud has begun preparations ahead of elections.”

However, he added: “At this stage there has been no decision on dissolving the Knesset [parliament].”

Netanyahu’s party later said in a statement that “the ball is now in the court of the Lieberman camp. If he accepts, we have a right-wing government tonight.”

Netanyahu had said on Twitter that he had put together a last-ditch proposal on the conscription issue and was meeting individually with party heads to discuss it.

Both Lieberman and ultra-Orthodox leaders indicated they were not prepared to compromise.

Lieberman refused to meet with Netanyahu on Sunday, his own party said in a statement.

It added that Lieberman remained committed to the proposed law.

– with reporting by AFP

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