Netanyahu given mandate to try and form a government

What happened: Following meetings with party representatives yesterday, President Reuven Rivlin has given Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the mandate to try and form a new government.

  • The consultation process was conducted on live television, with the 13 parties’ representatives meeting separately in 45-minute intervals at the President’s Residence.
  • Overall Netanyahu received 52 endorsements from the Likud (30), Shas (9), United Torah Judaism (7) and the Religious Zionists (6).
  • Opposing him and recommending Yair Lapid were 45 MKs from Yesh Atid (17), Blue and White (8), Labour (7), Yisrael Beitenu (7) and Meretz (6).
  • The Yamina representatives decided to endorse their own leader, Naftali Bennett, with their seven seats.
  • Three parties, representing 16 seats, abstained from endorsing any candidate. Gideon Saar’s New Hope appealed to Rivlin to intervene and persuade Lapid and Bennett to reach an understanding to unseat Netanyahu. Rivlin said it would be inappropriate for him to intervene in the political process.
  • The two Arab parties, the Joint List (6) and Raam (4), told the president that they were unable to recommend any candidate. Earlier in the day Ahmad Tibi, who heads the Ta’al party (part of the Joint List), which holds two mandates, said that if Saar had recommended Lapid to form the government, he would have done the same. If that happened, Lapid would have secured 53 recommendations compared to the Netanyahu’s 52.
  • In parallel to events at the President’s Residence, across town, the Jerusalem District Court convened for the evidentiary stage in the trial of Prime Minister Netanyahu. The hearing began with an opening statement by prosecutor, Liat Ben-Ari. The judge then excused Netanyahu as the court heard testimony of the first witness, Ilan Yeshua, the former CEO of Walla.
  • Netanyahu later made a statement, calling the process a  “witch-hunt … the prosecution engaged in a cover-up, engaged in illegal searches, deleted recordings and ignored testimony and leaks on a massive scale. It used extortion on witnesses, to the point of threatening with the destruction of their families.”
  • Yair Lapid described Netanyahu’s comments as “reckless” and “dangerous,” and revealed: “I offered my friend Naftali Bennett the opportunity to form a government with me. A government which will include the spectrum of Israeli politics, parties from the right, centre and left. A government which will reflect the fact that we live here together. We know how to bridge divides. We don’t hate one another.”  He also confirmed that he even offered Bennett to go first in a rotation arrangement.

Context: Although Netanyahu will now go first in trying to form a new government, he faces a difficult task as he is several seats short of a majority.

  • For Netanyahu to succeed, he would require the support of Bennett and of the Islamist party, Raam. The right-wing Religious Zionist Party has so far refused to be part of a coalition with Raam.      
  • Netanyahu is expected to place enormous pressure on Bezalal Smotrich, the leader of the Religious Zionists, to agree to a government with the support from Raam either from inside or as a blocking party outside the coalition.
  • The current situation could suit Bennett. He can show willingness to form a fully right-wing government under Netanyahu, but if it fails can then pursue a rotation agreement with Lapid.
  • Bennett, despite only winning seven seats, has argued that as the centre-right has a majority in parliament it is appropriate for him to serve as prime minister as a compromise candidate.
  • Daphna Liel on Channel 12 News has speculated that one of Bennett’s conditions for supporting Netanyahu would be his party’s integration into the Likud, which would position Bennett as Netanyahu’s heir of the right-wing camp.
  • Razi Barkai on Army Radio has suggested a scenario that were Bennett to secure a rotation agreement with Netanyahu and join the right-wing bloc, giving them 59 seats, Saar could agree to give them a blocking majority by abstaining (keeping his election promise of not sitting in a Netanyahu government, whilst supporting the right wing). Saar could then join a right-wing government later when Bennett becomes prime minister.

Looking forward: This afternoon the 24th Knesset will be sworn. For the first time since the outbreak of the coronavirus, guests with a green certificate be allowed to attend.

  • Netanyahu has 28 days to present a government (he can request a 14-day extension at the president’s discretion).
  • If he fails, the president can either ask a second person to try or send the mandate back to the Knesset, giving parliament 21 days to agree on a candidate.
  • If the second candidate fails, then the mandate automatically returns to the Knesset for the 21-day period.
  • If no candidate can garner the requisite support, the Knesset automatically disbands, and another election will be held.
  • In parallel to the political process, Netanyahu’s trial will continue, today, tomorrow and three times a week going forward.

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