Un three minutes to midnight, Benjamin Netanyahu returned the mandate to form a government to Israeli President Reuven Rivlin. As expected, after the parliamentary elections on March 23, the incumbent Prime Minister was unable to form a coalition within the statutory deadline.
Now Netanyahu seems to be closer to losing power than ever before in his 2009 term in office. But the parties on the other side have not yet found an agreement on a government with a majority without Netanyahu, the end of which does not seem to be sealed for a long time.
Most Israelis already believe in a fifth choice
A similar situation has occurred several times in the course of the ongoing Israeli government crisis in the past two years. Three times, Netanyahu failed to get its own majority coalition off the ground. But he had been able to stay in office as the executive head of government during the four elections so far since April 2019, even under charges of corruption. And it cannot be ruled out that it will continue like this for the moment.
Seventy percent of Israelis believe that the coalition negotiations will fail and that there will also be a fifth election within a few months, the think tank Israel Democracy Institute announced on Wednesday.
Rivlin now has three days to give the mandate to form a government to another MP or to the Knesset, which then has another 28 days to negotiate. If they also fail, there will be another choice. The president called on the 13 parties to propose a candidate to him by Wednesday afternoon. According to concurring reports, the mandate is likely to go to the center politician and opposition leader Jair Lapid, whose party became the second largest force behind Netanyahu’s Likud. Together with similarly-minded parties, Lapid has not yet achieved the required majority of 61 of the 120 Knesset seats. However, he is in advanced talks with the chairman of the nationalist right-wing Jamina party, Naftali Bennett.
Lapid would form a left-to-right coalition with the primary goal of overthrowing Netanyahu and uniting the country. Bennett, who is actually weak with only seven seats, can claim the role of kingmaker for himself. He speaks to both sides. Bennett is also heavily courted by Netanyahu, of which he was once the office manager. Despite his small number of parliamentary seats, Lapid is said to have promised him far-reaching concessions.
Netanyahu wants to prevent the rivals from approaching
Netanyahu, on the other hand, is trying for the time being to prevent Bennett and Lapid from getting closer. Most recently he had even offered Bennett, who was close to the settler movement, to take turns as prime minister, which Bennett dismissed as a bluff. The Likud then blamed Bennett. On Wednesday night, Netanyahu’s party announced that the formation of a government had “failed because of Bennett’s refusal to commit to a right-wing government.” This statement should probably also increase the pressure on Bennett not to join a camp depicted as “left”. It could also have fallen in view of a possible fifth election campaign in the fall, in which the Likud would cast doubts on Bennett’s ideological consolidation.
Lapid, too, may reportedly be ready to come to an arrangement with Bennett with alternating prime ministers. Lapid should even consider letting Bennett take the first turn as head of government. Bennett said his preferred coalition was actually a right-wing one, including the Likud, of which he was once a member. But Bennett’s Jamina list and two other small right-wing parties have decided not to get Netanyahu back into office.
For his attempts to form a government, Netanyahu had to rely not only on the ultra-orthodox parties loyal to him, but also on the Jewish extremist, homophobic party list “Religious Zionism” that he himself had brought along. And the support of an Islamist party – a collaboration that was out of the question for “Religious Zionism”.
Lapid and Bennett would also have to rely on votes from at least one of the Arab parties for an ideologically diverse coalition whose almost only thing in common would be the anti-Netanyahu stance. It is still uncertain whether Bennett will get involved and thus possibly burn ideologically on the right. Bennett is 49 years old, in no hurry and can look to the future after Netanyahu. A fifth choice doesn’t make that any less likely.
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