What happened: President Rivlin has entrusted Yair Lapid, the leader of the centrist Yesh Atid Party, with the opportunity to try and build a viable coalition.
- Yesterday Rivlin consulted with party leaders after Benjamin Netanyahu’s 28 days to form a government expired. Lapid received 11 more recommendations than last time (6 from New Hope and 5 out of 6 from the Joint List), taking his endorsements to 56 seats.
- Yamina’s seven seats were alone in recommending their party leader Naftali Bennett. However, Bennett clarified that he does not rule out the possibility of forming a government with Lapid.
- Mansour Abbas, the leader of the Islamic Raam Party, wrote to the president that he would “cooperate positively with anyone who is entrusted with forming a government, that is to say the person that receives the most number of recommendations”.
- This led Rivlin to explain that his main consideration was the person “who has the best chance of forming a government that will have the confidence of the new Knesset. From the number of recommendations, it is clear that MK Yair Lapid could form a government that has the confidence of the Knesset, despite there being many difficulties. Given these circumstances, returning the mandate to the Knesset would be a misapplication of the law and could result in a fifth round of elections before all possibilities for forming a government had been exhausted.”
- Upon receiving the endorsement Lapid said: “A unity government isn’t a compromise or a last resort – it’s a goal, it’s what we need. We need a government that will reflect the fact that we don’t hate one another. A government in which left, right and centre will work together to tackle the economic and security challenges we face. A government that will show that our differences are a source of strength, not weakness. I will do everything to ensure that an Israeli unity government will be formed as soon as possible so we can get to work for the people of Israel.”
- Earlier in the day, Bennett outlined his preference to form a “broad emergency government” over a fifth election.
- Following Rivlin’s announcement, Prime Minister Netanyahu attacked Bennett and his potential partners on the left, saying: ”Bennett spoke of a unity government. All he does is launder words in an attempt to mislead the public. Everyone knows that he wants to form a dangerous left-wing government. Can you protect IDF soldiers from ICC lawsuits with (Meretz leader) Nitzan Horowitz? Can you fight the nuclear agreement with Iran with Lapid?”
Context: Yair Lapid founded his party Yesh Atid nine years ago and has been a member of Knesset since 2013. This is the first time he has received the mandate to try and form a government.
- In 2019 he merged his party with Benny Gantz’s Israel Resilience Party to form Blue and White. Ahead of the second election that year he gave up a rotation agreement, stepping aside for Gantz to be their sole candidate for prime minister. After Gantz joined Netanyahu’s government in May 2020, the party split and Lapid became Head of the Opposition.
- It is now understood that Lapid and Bennett are working behind the scenes to form a broad unity government, with parity between left and right, that could involve Bennett serving first as prime minister in another rotation arrangement.
- Bennett’s role is key. Lapid cannot form a government without Bennett, and Gideon Saar’ New Hope Party will not join a government that is based on support from either Raam or the Joint List.
- Nevertheless, the combined coalition without the Arab parties is still short of the requisite 61 majority, unless they can either bring them inside or reach an understanding to have them abstain, allowing for a minority government to be formed.
- The picture is further complicated after new Yamina MK Amichai Chikli said yesterday: “I will vote against the formation of a government together with the Joint List and Meretz just as we pledged to the electorate.” The Likud is thought to be applying pressure on other MKs from Yamina in an effort to split the party.
- As a result of Lapid receiving the mandate, Yesh Atid MK Karin Elharar is the new chairperson of the Knesset’s arrangements committee, replacing Likud MK Miki Zohar. This committee controls the legislative agenda until a new government is formed. Theoretically, they could now try and pass legislation to prevent a candidate under indictment from forming a government in the future.
Looking ahead: Lapid and Bennett will now enter coalition negotiations in earnest, as they try to divide cabinet portfolios among all the partners and agree on government guidelines.
- The new government would focus on rehabilitating the economy and priorities a slew of socio-economic issues. Bennett alluded to this yesterday when he said, “On those issues in contention, we won’t be able to veer to the right or the left, but there is so much that we have in common. This is an opportunity to advance in areas that we do agree about.”
- The pair will also have to agree on who will fill the important role of Knesset speaker. Lapid is backing Meir Cohen from his party, whilst both Bennett and Saar are thought to favour Zeev Elkin.
- There is hope that they can reach an agreement within the next week or two, though formally, Lapid now has until June 2 to present a government.
- If they fail, the mandate is returned to the Knesset for any MK to present the support of 61 MKs within 21 days. If no candidate gets the required number of signatures, the Knesset will automatically dissolve and a fifth election will be held.