Can Netanyahu Form a Government before the Clock Strikes Twelve?

May 4, 2021

by: Kate Norman

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s mandate to form a government is set to expire at midnight Tuesday.

Tuesday, 4 May 2021 | As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s deadline to form a government looms, the likelihood of the incumbent leader retaining his position becomes more and more dubious.

At midnight Tuesday, time is up for Netanyahu to negotiate a coalition and stay at the helm of Israel’s Knesset (Parliament).

The prime minister’s last hope to govern the 120-seat Knesset appears to lie in two hands: that of Naftali Bennett, head of the Yamina “Right” party, and a deal with the Ra’am party, part of the Joint Arab List.

Netanyahu reportedly offered Bennett a rotating premiership, allowing the Yamina leader to serve as prime minister after which Netanyahu would return to the throne for the remainder of the four-year term. However, Bennett rejected Netanyahu’s offer, saying the incumbent leader does not have enough votes to form a majority.

Several other parties have also voiced an unwillingness to join a Netanyahu-led coalition that includes the Islamist Ra’am party.

“We will not be a partner in any government that leans actively or by abstention on Ra’am or other terror supporters,” said Religious Zionism leader Bezalel Smotrich last month, the Times of Israel reported.

The Religious Zionism party holds seven seats in the Knesset—meaning Netanyahu could never negotiate a coalition without Smotrich’s support.

What happens if when the clock runs out, Netanyahu has failed to form a majority government? President Reuven Rivlin, whose position provides him the power to tap a candidate for prime minister, can either give Netanyahu an extension, pass the baton to another candidate or return the mandate back to the Knesset, where it would become a 21-day free-for-all to form a government.

Rivlin is likely to tap opposition leader Yair Lapid next to attempt a government, according to Israeli media. Yesh Atid leader Lapid said he is expecting to take the baton next, “if nothing surprising happens” before midnight.

Lapid’s hopes also lie with Naftali Bennett, as the opposition leader has offered Bennett a rotation agreement to serve as prime minister, Channel 13 reported. Like Netanyahu, Lapid has offered Bennet the first turn at the helm—only he offered Bennett two years and three months as prime minister, as opposed to Netanyahu’s offer of one year. After his term as the premier runs out, Bennett would then step down to the position of foreign minister.

Lapid also sweetened the deal by offering high-profile ministerial appointments to Bennett’s Yamina peers as well as veto powers within a prospective unity government, Channel 13 reported.

Bennet told his Yamina party that anyone who does not want to join a unity government with him should quit immediately, the Jerusalem Post reported.

Pending any last-minute saves, it seems as though Netanyahu’s reign is coming to an end. And if the expected Lapit/Bennett-led unity government falls through, President Rivlin will be forced to hand the mandate back to the Knesset, in which case anyone could try to patch together a majority government. That would most likely lead to a fifth round of elections—one outcome most of the political players are desperate to avoid.

Each round of elections has been like a game of chess, with different moves, king-makers and king breakers. But each round seems to lead to the same outcome: a seemingly impossible situation for Netanyahu. This current round doesn’t appear to be any different, but who knows what will happen behind closed doors before the clock runs out at midnight?

Posted on May 4, 2021

Source: (Bridges for Peace, May 4, 2021)

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