Israel’s president asks Netanyahu to try to form government

Four-time prime minister appeals to Benny Gantz for unity coalition after talks falter

Israeli president Reuven Rivlin (right) hands a letter of appointment for entrusted with forming the next government to Israeli prime minister and Chairman of the Likud Party Benjamin Netanyahu at the President’s residence in Jerusalem on Wednesday. Photograph: Abir Sultan/EPA

Israeli president Reuven Rivlin (right) hands a letter of appointment for entrusted with forming the next government to Israeli prime minister and Chairman of the Likud Party Benjamin Netanyahu at the President’s residence in Jerusalem on Wednesday. Photograph: Abir Sultan/EPA

 

Israeli president Reuven Rivlin has tasked prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu with forming his fifth government, following last week’s inconclusive election.

Accepting the mandate, Mr Netanyahu said he cannot form a government without Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party.

“We won’t be able to form a government unless we do it together,” he said, renewing the call for a unity government.

He urged “national reconciliation”, saying a unity government must swiftly be formed for security reasons, economic reasons and the “one-time opportunity, which won’t return” of the Trump peace deal.

“The nation needs to be united and prepared,” he said.

The final tally of votes showed Mr Netanyahu’s Likud gaining an extra seat to 32 seats in the 120-seat Knesset parliament, one less than the centrist Blue and White with 33. However, Mr Netanyahu received more recommendations to be chosen as prime minister from the parties elected – 55 lawmakers who support him against the 54 who back Mr Gantz.

Mr Netanyahu will have 28 days to build a coalition and if he is unsuccessful he may ask for a two-week extension.

Negotiations

If Mr Netanyahu fails to form a government, the mandate will then likely be given to Mr Gantz as the leader of the second largest faction.

“Netanyahu has more of a chance to form a government,” Mr Rivlin said, but he warned that without a genuine desire to compromise there will be no new government.

Most commentators believe that neither leader will be able to cobble together a working majority, meaning Israel will face the nightmare prospect of another election early next year – the third in less than a year.

Negotiations between representatives from the two parties took place on Tuesday after Mr Netanyahu met Mr Gantz on Monday night, together with Mr Rivlin, and agreed to explore unity options.

However, significant differences emerged, including the key question of who would be prime minister first in a rotation government, and whether Likud’s traditional right-wing and religious coalition partners would be included in a unity government.

Election vow

Next Wednesday, immediately after the Jewish New Year holiday, Mr Netanyahu faces a pre-trial hearing in three separate corruption cases. The attorney general will then decide, probably by December, whether to issue indictments on bribery, fraud and breach of trust.

Politicians from the Likud and Blue and White were quick to blame the other party for the failure to agree to a unity government in this week’s talks.

Blue and White vowed during the election campaign not to serve in a government led by Mr Netanyahu if he is indicted.

Israel’s president traditionally has a largely ceremonial role and appointing a party leader to form a government is usually a formality.

This time the president emerged as a key player as the political drama unfolded. He repeatedly made clear he would like to see the two large parties in a unity government, saying he will do all he can to avoid yet another election.