Out of the 39 parties that registered with the Central Elections Committee, 13 actually passed the minimum threshold of 3.25% which is equivalent to 4 Knesset seats. This makes up approximately 140,000 votes.
Last Monday the President spent the whole day meeting with party leaders and representatives. Each faction recommended to Reuven Rivlin their preferred candidate to be given the task of forming a government. The Likud who won 30 seats, of course, recommended Binyamin Netanyahu, as did Shas with 9 seats, United Torah Judaism, 7 seats and the Religious Zionists party with 6 seats. This gave a grand total of 52 votes in favor of Binyamin Netanyahu.
Yesh Atid with 17 seats recommended their leader, Yair Lapid for Prime Minister and this was also endorsed by Blue and White with 8 seats, Labor 7, Yisrael Beitenu 7 and Meretz 6, giving Lapid a total of 45 mandates.
Yamina who won just 7 seats decided to back their leader, Naftali Bennett for Prime Minister, while New Hope headed by Gideon Sa’ar, refrained from naming any candidate. Last to meet the President was the Arab parties, Joint List and Ra’am, who also chose not to endorse either candidate.
Had Yamina also given their 7 mandates to recommend Yair Lapid for Prime Minister, I am quite sure that President Rivlin would have nominated Lapid to form the next government. However, Rivlin made it very clear to parties opposed to Netanyahu being given another opportunity to form a government, that he has no choice because in his words, “I don’t see how Lapid will form a coalition of at least 61 seats.”
In fact, the President gave a strong ticking off to Avigdor Liberman who pleaded with Rivlin, not to give the mandate to someone who is under three indictments. But the President replied, that it was his job to do everything possible to prevent a fifth election and that parties like Yisrael Beitenu were not helping, when they know they haven’t got the ability to form a government, but did not want the other side to even try.
PRESIDENT APPOINTS A CANDIDATE
Despite his reluctance and the President stating, “It was not an easy decision from a moral and ethical prospective” in light of the corruption charges against the Prime Minister, Reuven Rivlin appointed Binyamin Netanyahu to form a government.
However, he did add that in the current reality, he did not think that any candidate can form a government and that if he could, he would give the decision back to the Knesset. But he said the law does not allow him to do this.
Rivlin also said that he knows the position held by many, that the President should not give the mandate to a candidate that is facing criminal charges. But he stressed that according to the law and the decision of the courts, a prime minister can continue in his role, even when he is facing charges.
Rivlin announced that the President of the State of Israel is not a substitute for the legislature or the judiciary and it is the role of the Knesset to decide on the “substantial and ethical question of the fitness of the candidate facing criminal charges to serve as Prime Minister”.
The President noted that in his consultations with representatives of the political parties on Tuesday, no candidate received 61 recommendations and that he had decided to give the mandate that had a slightly higher chance of forming a government. But Rivlin stressed it was not an easy decision for him.
Netanyahu now has 28 days to form a government.
In reaction to the President’s remarks, Yesh Atid leader, Yair Lapid said Rivlin has no choice but to give the mandate to Netanyahu. But he said “It was an embarrassing sign of disgrace that tarnishes Israel and brings shame to our status as a law binding state.
24th KNESSET SWORN IN
Members of the new Knesset were sworn in last Tuesday in a ceremony of uncertainty over whether a new coalition will be formed or Israel will head to another election later in the year. The President urged political leaders to break the prolonged political deadlock and display leadership. In his speech, Rivlin told the Knesset Members of 13 parties to overcome ideological differences and end the two-year crisis that has sent Israelis to the polls four times.
Rivlin said, “If we do not learn to find a model of partnership that will allow us to live together with mutual respect and obligation to each other, our national resilience will face real danger. “The people of Israel are looking to you and I expect each of you to demonstrate leadership”. He added, “I believe in this nation, I believe in it, because that is the lesson that history, both distant and near has taught me. “I believe in it because this nation has proven its strength during the current pandemic. “I believe and you should believe too” Rivlin said.
During the swearing-in ceremony, four of the six members of the Arab Joint List, altered the wording of the pledge, saying they were committed to “fighting the occupation, apartheid and the nation state law”. The Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin, told the 4 Arab MK’s that their swearing-in was not valid.
Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas, whose Islamic party has been seen as the faction that could give the much-needed support to Netanyahu, did not attend the swearing-in ceremony on Tuesday, due to being hospitalized near Tiberius because of kidney stones. He was reported to have undergone surgery the next day.
In contract to the Knesset swearing-in ceremony last March, which was held under strict social distancing rules due to the pandemic, all lawmakers were allowed into the plenum last Tuesday. The relaxed rules come after Israel has vaccinated the majority of its population. Lawmakers were also allowed to invite one vaccinated family member to the guest gallery.
As the swearing-in ceremony was being held, several hundred people protested outside the Knesset building. One demonstration was against the Prime Minister being given the mandate to form a new government, while the other was opposed to the new elected MK Avi Maoz who leads the Noam party.
Avi Maoz and Noam ran with the Religious Zionists which together with the far-right Otzma Yehudit faction, received 6 Knesset seats and gave their mandate to Netanyahu. Maoz is known for his anti-LGBT activism.
After President Rivlin’s remarks at the swearing-in ceremony in the Knesset, Rivlin did not stay for the traditional photographs normally taken with the candidate tasked with forming a government. The President also refused to attend the meeting between the four symbols of government – President, Prime Minister, Speaker of the Knesset and the President of the Supreme Court, suggesting he could not bear to be in the same room as Netanyahu. Rivlin did not even present the letter himself to Netanyahu that gives him the mandate to form a government within the next 28 days, but instead sent an aide to deliver the document. In response, Likud MKs said at the Likud faction meeting later on Tuesday, “This time Rivlin has crossed the line”.
Politically Netanyahu remains 9 seats short of 61 to present a government. Even if Bennett’s Yamina party joins with their 7 seats, 59 is still not enough. We await to hear what demands the Arab Ra’am party (4 seats) will make, as its leader Mansour Abbas is recovering in hospital from kidney stones.
Political observers have suggested that at the first stage, a minority coalition of 59 seats may just be enough to present a government in the Knesset, as it is unlikely that all 61 remaining MKs would vote against and bring the country to a fifth election.
Stage two would come at a later date as maybe some MKs from other parties may consider their positions very carefully and eventually join the government.
The other possibility is the Arab Ra’am party may diminish some of their recent extreme demands and join the government. Last week, Mansour Abbas insisted that permits needed to be given to all the illegally built Palestinian and Bedouin houses in Judea, Samaria and the Negev. Abbas also reiterated something that the far-left wing Meretz party even rejects, which is the “right of return” for Palestinians.
Although the Religious Zionists party is opposed to Ra’am joining the government or even supporting the government from outside – if Religious Zionists were faced with a fifth election where their 6 seats may completely disappear, the party may in the end, accept the deal with Ra’am.