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The 24th Knesset sworn in

What happened: The new Knesset was sworn in yesterday, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was given the mandate to try and assemble a coalition.

  • At the Knesset’s swearing in ceremony President Reuven Rivlin reflected that Israel is “no longer a tribal campfire with a clear majority that shares a value system and relatively homogeneous beliefs, with minority groups living alongside it,” but “four tribes that learn in separate education systems and largely live in separate communities and which are becoming closer in size: a secular tribe, a religious tribe, an ultra-Orthodox tribe and an Arab tribe”. He added: “All of them, without exception, are people of this place. If we are not able to find a new model of contemporary Israeliness … that allows us to live together here in mutual respect and genuine shared commitment to each other, our national resilience will be in real jeopardy.”
  • Addressing the new members of Knesset Rivlin said: “The Israeli people looks to you and expects each one of you to show leadership. The kind of leadership this moment demands. Leadership that is faithful to the people and their values, but that also knows how to mark boundaries and show the way. Leadership that is confident in its path, but that sees ideological rivals not as the enemy, heaven forbid, but as potential partners. Leadership that, in the atmosphere of tribalism, knows how to steer away from separatism and alienation, which may be appropriate for the campaign trail, but are destructive when it comes to building a country and leading a people. Leadership of partnership and respect. That is the leadership the Israeli people needs now, and it is not something that is expected only of the Knesset Member entrusted with forming a government or the new president you will elect, but of each one of you as representatives and leaders of the people.”
  • Earlier in the day, Rivlin formally tasked Prime Minster Netanyahu with the mandate to form the next government.  However, he noted his discomfort saying, “I know the position held by many, that the president should not give the role to a candidate that is facing criminal charges, but according to the law and the decision of the courts, a prime minister can continue in his role even when he is facing charges … this is not an easy decision on a moral and ethical basis.”
  • At the Knesset, the President did not pose for the traditional photograph with Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin, Supreme Court President Esther Hayut and Prime Minister Netanyahu. He also avoided the standard photograph with Knesset party leaders.
  • In the Knesset Prime Minister Netanyahu said: “I will do everything to get Israel out of the cycle of elections. We will form a strong government, not a government of stagnation, but a government of action … just like how we brought about the economic stimulus plan to all citizens of Israel; just like how we acted to fortify our security and achieve peace with Arab countries that served all Israeli citizens, what interests me first is the historic mission to secure the existence and future of the State of Israel.”
  • During the swearing in ceremony, four Arab MKs from the Joint List broke with protocol and instead of committing “to be faithful to the State of Israel,” they said their own “commitment to fighting against the occupation, apartheid and against racism and racists”. Their statements were met with protests and they were escorted out of the plenum for disrupting proceedings.

Context: Netanyahu now has 28 days to assemble a government.

  • His next step will focus on securing the support of Naftali Bennett’s Yamina Party.
  • If Netanyahu wins the support of Yamina, he will have 59 seats, two MKs short of a majority. One option to make up the difference would be to persuade two defectors from the ‘Bloc of Change’. However, two potential candidates, New Hope MKs Yifat Shasha-Biton and Sharren Haskel, have rejected offers to defect to the Likud. They said the offers included promises of ministerial portfolios.
  • Another approach was made to Yisrael Beiteinu MK, Hamad Amar, who was also offered a senior ministerial portfolio if he were to join the Likud. Amar refused the offer.
  • A third approach was made to split the Blue and White Party, which was not successful either.
  • Another option currently being explored would be for Netanyahu to form a government with Likud, the ultra-Orthodox parties and Yamina, giving them 53 seats. They would then rely on support from outside the government, from the Religious Zionists Party and Raam. Both have ruled out sitting with each other, but theoretically could be persuaded to support the government from outside by abstaining and giving a minority government a technical blocking majority in the Knesset.

Looking ahead: Later today Netanyahu will meet with the party leaders who have already endorsed him in order to explore options of forming a government.

  • Tomorrow Netanyahu will meet with Naftali Bennett in an effort to bring him into his coalition.
  • If he fails to form a government within the time allocated to him, 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.

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