Binyamin Netanyahu’s task to form a new government ends on 4th May and the question is, how does he increase his coalition partners from 52 mandates (Likud 30, Shas 9, United Torah Judaism 7 and Religious Zionists 6) to 61 mandates?
Naftali Bennett and Netanyahu have now met face to face on four separate occasions since the general election result was announced. Although each of these private meetings were long and intense, a great deal of much needed “clearing the air” took place. You have to remember, these two party leaders have had absolutely no contact between each other for several months.
To add to the tension, the media hype with all sorts of “fake” media “sensational” stories about what Bennett said of Netanyahu and what Bennett’s real goal is, has not helped, especially when news commentators quote, “unnamed sources.”
Have you ever wondered why these news networks or publications do not back it up with a name behind the story? In some cases, it is true that the “source” wishes to (or has to) remain anonymous. But on other occasions, it is all part of a media game to push a certain political narrative on to an unsuspecting public. In other words, it’s really about what the news networks or publications, “hope will happen”, but based on absolutely no substance or foundation whatsoever.
However even if Bennett and Netanyahu iron out many of their differences and animosity towards each other, and there is clearly a great deal of baggage between them, the Yamina party only gives Netanyahu 7 further mandates, which is clearly not enough to reach a majority.
What happens after 4th May?
If Netanyahu fails to secure a 61 seat majority at the end of the 28-day period, President Rivlin could give Bibi an extra day or few days, or even the full 2 weeks, if he believes he is close to forming a government. But the President may create conditions to this extension, like telling the PM, he has to report back to him every day with a progress report.
Such a scenario could be for example, if Betzalel Smotrich and his Religious Zionists party decide to accept the Islamist Ra’am party’s support from outside the government.
Smotrich always said he made a “technical bloc” with Otzma Yehudit, led by Itamar Ben Gvir and Noam, led by Avi Maoz. Therefore he could break from those two factions and accept the Arab Ra’am party’s mandates, from outside the government, giving Netanyahu 57 seats plus 4 from outside.
But it is very risky for Smotrich’s voter base, because Ra’am have links to the Muslim Brotherhood and several Likud members are even very concerned about accepting outside support from Ra’am.
Who are the 6 MK’s in Sa’ar’s party?
Another option for Netanyahu is Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope party with 6 mandates, could climb down from a very high tree and join the coalition.
Likud and New Hope are perfect for each other in terms of ideology and right-wing agendas. The only “snag” is, in the words of Jeremy Saltan, who heads Yamina’s English division: “I think people underestimate the amount of hatred Gideon Sa’ar has for Netanyahu.”
The Yamina candidate and spokesperson, said that it is unlikely that any of New Hope’s six MKs will join. But who are they?
Gideon Sa’ar, Sharren Haskel and Ze’ev Elkin were all Likud MKs at the end of 2020, but bolted the party for “more favourable options.”
But it is well known that Benny Begin, has not voted Likud for at least the last four elections, possibly five, and distanced himself from Likud several years ago.
Yoaz Hendel was an MK with Moshe Ya’alon’s Telem party, then moved with him to Blue and White, then formed Derech Eretz and now finds himself in New Hope. Like Begin, Hendel also worked with Netanyahu.
Yifat Shasha-Bitan took over the leadership of Kulanu when Moshe Kahlon retired, but ran on a joint ticket with Likud for the last few elections. However like Hendel, she moved her faction to Gideon Saar’s new party.
So the question is whether a faction will break from New Hope? Jeremy Saltan believes, defectors and break away groups have huge legal implications. “They can only happen if a third of a party break or a separate faction within a party, like Yoaz Hendel’s Derech Eretz or Yifat Shasha’s Kulanu faction break off”, he said.
Will the President appoint another candidate?
A second option for President Rivlin would be to hold party consultations for a second time to see if support for Yair Lapid has increased. If so, Lapid may receive 28 days to form a government.
But the President said last time, there is little chance a stable government will emerge with the likes of Yesh Atid, Blue White, Labour and Meretz along with Yisrael Beitenu, New Hope, Yamina and Ra’am which only just makes it over the line.
Shas and UTJ will not join with Yisrael Beitenu, Labor or Meretz and would have a hard time accepting Yair Lapid.
The President could hold consultations with party representatives for a second time, but Rivlin spent a whole day, meeting each of them, and it was plainly obvious to anyone viewing the proceedings, that he was getting more and more frustrated as the day went on.
In addition, in the last Knesset, there were only 8 parties that Rivlin had to meet with. This time there are 13 political parties that crossed the threshold.
Perhaps Bibi can become President?
One final possibility is the hype around Netanyahu running for President which is a great job for 7 years, if he wants it. But Netanyahu doesn’t want the President role and never backs down from a political fight.
Besides, Presidential candidates like Yehuda Glick (Likud), Yitzhak Herzog (Labor) and others are already campaigning amongst Knesset members who get to choose the head of state. So Netanyahu is probably too late to canvass for nominations, as the latest date the Presidential election can be held is June 9th.
The options for Netanyahu, Lapid or a third candidate to form a government of 61, are at this point looking quite slim. But don’t worry, all Knesset members want to avoid a fifth election. Phew, that’s reassuring.