Having secured a clear margin of victory, Likud leader, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said this morning that he would look to form a coalition government swiftly and had already contacted the leaders of right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties.
There had been plenty of speculation over the various coalition permutations following last night’s exit polls, which indicated a tight result. It was also widely thought that President Reuven Rivlin would encourage a national unity government led by both Likud and Zionist Union. However, with Likud having scored a decisive victory, Netanyahu’s path to forming the next government appears relatively clear.
Netanyahu released a statement this morning, saying, “The citizens of Israel expect us to quickly put together a leadership that will work for the sake of the country’s security, economy, and society as we promised to do, and that is what I will do.” He added that he “plans to immediately begin forming a government in order to complete the task within two to three weeks.” Giving further detail, Netanyahu said that he had already contacted Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett, Yisrael Beitenu head Avigdor Lieberman, Shas chairman Aryeh Deri, United Torah Judaism’s Moshe Gafni and Ya’akov Litzman, plus Kulanu head Moshe Kahlon. A coalition including all of these parties would guarantee a 67 seat majority in the 120-seat Knesset.
Of the leaders contacted by Netanyahu, Kahlon appears to be the most pivotal. His party’s 10 seats would make Kulanu the second largest coalition faction while adding a centrist element to an otherwise right-wing and religious potential government. However, Kahlon, himself a former Likud minister has so far refused to pledge his backing to Netanyahu, even rebuffing Netanyahu’s overtures to make him Finance Minister prior to yesterday’s poll.
The formal coalition-building process will get underway in the coming days. President Reuven Rivlin will meet all party leaders, who will recommend who they think should form the next government. However, it appears a mere formality that Rivlin will invite Netanyahu to construct a coalition.