Netanyahu will ‘work for all Israelis’ to form fifth government

PM must form coalition following unprecedented promise to annex West Bank settlements

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) shakes hands with president Reuven Rivlin at the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem on April 17. Photograph:Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) shakes hands with president Reuven Rivlin at the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem on April 17. Photograph:Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty

 

Israeli president Reuven Rivlin has tasked prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu with forming his fifth government.

At a ceremony at the president’s residence in Jerusalem on Wednesday night, Mr Rivlin called for the country to pull together after a divisive election campaign. “Them and us is over. From now it’s only us,” he said.

Mr Netanyahu said he was as moved, if not more moved, as this was the first time he was given the honour.

“I will work for all Israelis. Those who voted for me and those who did not.”

Mr Netanyahu now has 28 days to cobble together a coalition but may request an additional 14 days.

Even ahead of its formation, the coalition is being dubbed the “annexation coalition” – in a reference to Mr Netanyahu’s unprecedented election promise to annex West Bank settlements – and the “immunity coalition”, as all the parties are expected to pledge to remain in the government even if Mr Netanyahu is indicted on corruption charges.

According to the final count following last week’s election, Mr Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party received 35 seats in the 120-seat Knesset parliament, the same as the centrist Blue and White.

Far-right

However, parties representing 65 Knesset members recommended that Mr Netanyahu head the next government as opposed to only 45 for former top general Benny Gantz, the Blue and White leader. The two Arab parties, representing 10 Knesset members, failed to recommend any candidate.

In addition to the Likud, Mr Netanyahu’s 65-member coalition will be comprised of the far-right Union of Right-Wing Parties; two ultra-Orthodox parties – Shas and United Torah Judaism; Yisrael Beiteinu, led by former defence minister Avigdor Lieberman; and the centrist Kulanu, which will reportedly merge with the Likud in the coming weeks.

The coalition will only be formed after all the parties agree to policy guidelines and the distribution of ministerial portfolios. Weeks of negotiations lie ahead.

One of the main stumbling blocks is the issue of religion and state. The ultra-Orthodox parties seek to limit drafting religious men into the army and want to close down businesses on Saturdays, the Jewish Sabbath. Mr Lieberman, who campaigned on the slogan “Right-wing and Secular”, has vowed to block any amendments to the draft Bill for enlisting the ultra-Orthodox, which was drawn up when he served as defence minister and has still not become law.

The Union of Right-Wing Parties are eager for a speedy implementation of the pledge to annex settlements but Mr Netanyahu is unlikely to initiate any move that will go against the US Middle East peace plan, which is expected to be unveiled in early June.

In February, Israel’s attorney general announced that he intended to indict Mr Netanyahu in three corruption cases, pending a hearing. It is now expected that Mr Netanyahu, following his decisive election victory, will advance legislation that would grant him immunity from prosecution as long as he remains prime minister.

Mr Netanyahu, who maintains his innocence, is under no legal obligation to resign if indicted.