Despite a fourth inconclusive time at the polls and no clear path to forming a government, Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin reluctantly tasked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday with forming a governing coalition. Rivlin said “this was not an easy decision” given the divisive political climate and Netanyahu’s personal prospects amid his ongoing corruption trial.
Netanyahu, leader of the Likud party, has 28 days to negotiate with the 13 parties who make up the 120 member Knesset (parliament) and form a coalition of 61 seats. His party has 30, and his right-wing allies (Shas, United Torah Judaism, and Religious Zionism) bring another 22 to the tally.
Rivlin addressed the members of 24th Knesset after they were sworn in. Rivlin said he believed that Netanyahu has a “slightly higher chance of forming a government” than Yair Lapid (centrist Yesh Atid party) and Naftali Bennett (right-wing Yamina party) who had proposed a “healing government” where they would share power and rotate as Prime Minister. Their idea failed to gain traction. It was also thought that the Islamic Ra’am party might be a “kingmaker,” but they abstained from endorsing any candidate.
After announcing his decision, Rivlin spoke of his concerns over the changes he sees in Israel.
“If we are not able to find a new model of contemporary Israeliness that has a place for each one of the tribes of Israel [secular, religious, ultra-Orthodox, and Arab] …if we are not able to find a new model of partnership 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.”
After being given the mandate to form a government, Netanyahu appealed to the other parties to join him. He laid out his plan to help Israel continue to address the COVID-19 pandemic, rebuild the economy, normalize relations with Arab neighbors, and deal with Iran’s nuclear aspirations.
“To do this, the government must be united, both in policy and action. And to create it, we must first end the personal boycotts.” Netanyahu said establishing a “strong, homogenous” coalition will be difficult, but not impossible.
The “personal boycotts” he refers to come from those who are close to him ideologically, but no longer trust him and have sworn not to work with him again. Bibi has been in power so long that he has burned bridges with many of his peers. Most recently, he reneged on a power-sharing plan with Benny Gantz from the Blue and White party.
In a normal situation, he would have a super majority as Gidon Sa’ar, Yair Lapid, Avigdor Liberman, Benny Gantz, and Naphtali Bennett would all join him, bringing their 45 seats to the 52 he already has. In such a scenario, Netanyahu could ditch the Orthodox parties and still have over 80 seats. But these leaders are banking on a post-Netanyahu era.