by: Ilse Strauss and Kate Norman
Friday, 4 October 2019 | The 120 members of Israel’s 22nd Knesset (Parliament) were sworn in yesterday, a mere 156 days since the 21st Knesset was inaugurated in April and 127 days since that Knesset voted to dissolve after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to stitch together a 61-seat majority government, sending Israel to a second round of national elections in a year.
While the inauguration of Parliament usually brings political stability, Israelis couldn’t help but feel a sense of grim apprehension. In the wake of the second national election that yielded no clear winner and failed to break the political stalemate, Netanyahu faces a much tougher challenge to gather the 61-seat majority than he did in April. In fact, Israeli media is referring to the responsibility as “mission impossible.”
As the 120 MKs (Members of Knesset) took their oaths, many wondered whether the 22nd Knesset will go the way of the 21st Knesset, sending Israel to a dreaded third round of national elections.
Addressing Israel’s new government, President Reuven Rivlin called on lawmakers to set aside personal differences, join forces and form a unity government to spare Israelis from the upheaval of going to the polls for a third time.
“We are facing a time of crisis for the House of Jacob,” Rivlin charged. “An emergency for Israel’s security and for Israeli society, an emergency for Israeli democracy: all that is dear to us.
“Forming a government is not only the wish of the people,” the president said. “More than ever, in times like these, it is an economic and security need the likes of which we have not known for many years.”
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein took a more direct approach, addressing his remarks directly to the two men at the opposing sides of the political deadlock: Likud leader Netanyahu and his rival, Blue and White party head, former Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Chief of Staff Benny Gantz.
“My office is a few meters away,” Edelstein said. “Sit. Talk. Turn over every stone until you find a formula. We can bridge the gaps. We can repair the tears. We certainly can reach unity.”
Edelstein warned that the Israeli public would not forgive lawmakers for yet another election this year. “Let’s not fool ourselves that we can place blame on each other. We will all carry it.”
Despite the impassioned calls for a unity government, the prospect seems unlikely.
Last week, Rivlin tasked Netanyahu with forming a coalition in 28 days. Though the longest reigning prime minister’s Likud party fell just one seat behind the 33 seats won by Gantz’s Blue and White party in the elections, Netanyahu has the advantage of being the most likely to successfully form a coalition.
In Israeli elections, voters select parties, not individual candidates, to lead the Knesset. Traditionally the Israeli president then selects a member from the victorious party—after hearing recommendations from each party for a candidate—to form a coalition, requiring a 61-seat majority of the 120 total seats in the Knesset.
Fifty-five MKs have voiced support for Netanyahu, while 54 back Gantz. Unfortunately for Gantz, out of his 54 supporters, 10 who are from Arab parties have said they will not sit with the former IDF chief of staff in a coalition—giving Netanyahu the narrow advantage.
If Netanyahu is to form a 61-seat coalition, he needs 6 more seats. Yet with all the other parties refusing to join his right-wing bloc, the prime minister seems to face a mission impossible indeed.
Well aware of the deadlock, Netanyahu has called on Blue and White to join Likud in the only solution to stave off a third round of elections: forming a unity government. Negotiations between the two parties have, however, proven unfruitful, given each group’s nonnegotiables: Netanyahu and Gantz are reportedly bickering over the order of who would serve first as prime minister; Gantz has said repeatedly that he will not sit in a government with Netanyahu while he is under suspicion of corruption.
The current prime minister and the former IDF chief of staff were scheduled to meet this week to continue possible negotiations, but Gantz backed out of the meeting, with his Blue and White party accusing Netanyahu of not meeting their pre-meeting conditions. This has led to mutual finger-pointing and each side accusing the other of forcing the country into a dreaded third election.
The Likud party quickly released a statement, saying it was “shocked by the decision of Blue and White to blow up the negotiations.”
In a bid to find another way to break the stalemate, Netanyahu yesterday sat down with his former defense minister, erstwhile ally and current nemesis, Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman, attempting to woo the latter over and add his coveted 8 seats to Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition. However, the meeting bore no fruit.
As Israel prepares for Shabbat (Sabbath), the political situation remains in turmoil. Likud and Blue and White seem unable to lay aside their differences to form a unity government. Netanyahu needs a miracle to get the 6 seats required for the 61-seat majority. If the miracle doesn’t come, he is expected to return the mandate to Rivlin.
Amid the turmoil, Israelis continue to hope and pray that the tenure of the 22nd Knesset will not mirror that of the 21st.
Posted on October 4, 2019
Source: (Bridges for Peace, October 4, 2019)
Photo Credit: i24NEWS Français/YouTube/screenshot
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