The Israeli PM will need to reach the magic number of 61 to remain in his seat. But as he struggles to find allies, this prospect seems to be far-fetched and that means that 28 days from now, President Rivlin will need to decide on whether to give another candidate a try.
After a long day of consultations with 13 parties’ chiefs, Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin has finally ruled on Tuesday that it will be Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who will be entrusted to form a government.
Netanyahu, whose Likud party received 30 out of 120 seats in the Israeli parliament, will now have 28 days to build a coalition unless the president extends it by two more weeks.
However, forming a government might soon prove to be a mission impossible for the longest-serving Israeli PM.
Together with his natural allies, a bloc of three religious parties, Netanyahu currently has 52 seats in the chamber and that means he is 9 signatures away from remaining in his seat as prime minister.
To obtain that number, he will need to get the support of his former defence minister Naftali Bennett, who garnished 7 seats in the parliament. But the catch is that the latter dreams to replace Netanyahu at his post and might not want to settle for anything less than a premiership role.
Yet, Netanyahu does not lose hope. According to reports, the plan is that members of the religious bloc will convince Bennett to throw his support behind the premier for which he can obtain any ministerial position he would like.
If Bennett ends up accepting that offer, the coalition will still need to arrange for two more signatures to make it to the 61 lawmakers and Likud counts on Bennett to arrange for a solution.
One such solution could be sweet-talking a couple of parliamentarians from other parties to defect to the pro-Netanyahu camp. Another one could be convincing other members of the conservative coalition to sit down in a government that would be supported by Raam, an Islamic party that had previously been delegitimised by Netanyahu and his supporters.
Likud believes that such scenarios could still be an option. Israeli media think otherwise, and if Netanyahu ends up failing, for the fourth time, Rivlin will have no other choice but to return the mandate to the Knesset.
Bennett’s Golden Chance
The practical meaning of this would be that any lawmaker willing to try his luck will be entrusted to form a government; Bennett might be the person to attempt to make it happen.
His government, if it ends up being established, will not be characterised by stability. Nor will it be coherent.
One of the problems is that the hawkish Bennett will need to form a coalition with centrists and liberals with whom he has very few points in common. Although that government will also have other conservative elements, including the Likud defector Gideon Saar and former defence minister Avigdor Lieberman, but the majority of members will be on the left of the spectrum. This means that they will not be able to agree on any pressing issues that divide the country today.
Such will be the case with their attitude towards judiciary activism and its interference in Israel’s politics. The conservatives will want to bite off that capacity of the High Court to have a say on legislation. The liberals will want to protect the judiciary from such attacks.
The issue of settlements in the West Bank as well as the separation between religion and state will also be an apple of discord that will not be resolved as the two sides will be pulling the rope in their direction.
Projections suggest that if this government is to ever take place, he will try to sweep under the rug all the issues that could potentially cause trouble until the situation gets more stable. The parties that will make up the coalition will focus on other aspects that are still important for Israeli society, including the economic situation that deteriorated following the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in February 2020.
But as major topics of division will remain unresolved, doubts run high as to whether the Israeli public will be prepared to swallow it.
And that could potentially pave the way for yet another parliamentary race, the fifth in two years that might take place at the end of August.