Israel's Netanyahu gets extension until Dec. 21 to form government

JERUSALEM, Dec 9 (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu will have until Dec. 21 to form a new government after getting a 10-day extension on Friday.

Netanyahu was tapped to lead the country following a right-wing victory in a Nov. 1 election. He has secured majority support in parliament, but has yet to finalise the coalition agreements.

With his initial mandate set to expire on Sunday, Netanyahu sought the maximum two-week extension allowed by law. President Isaac Herzog, whose job as head of state is largely ceremonial, gave him an extra 10 days.

Coalition talks have dragged on longer than expected, since Netanyahu from the outset had support from right-wing and religious parties that control 64 of the Knesset's 120 seats.

A main sticking point has been who gets which ministerial post and the distribution of power between them, Israeli media has reported.

The centrist opposition had urged Herzog not to grant an extension, accusing Netanyahu of buying time to pass divisive legislation. One such bill would enable a senior partner of Netanyahu to serve in cabinet despite a criminal record.

Should Netanyahu fail to meet the deadline, Herzog can task another member of Knesset to try forming a government. Otherwise, a new election will be called. A prolonged political stalemate has led to five elections in less than four years. Currently an outgoing caretaker government remains in office.

"These are complex days for Israeli society when disputes over fundamental issues threaten to tear apart and ignite violence and hatred," Herzog said in a letter to Netanyahu that his office made public.

He called for the formation of a government that represents the entire country and for a coalition that maintains a respectful dialogue between the branches of government.

Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch, Editing by William Maclean, Nick Macfie and Andrew Heavens

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