Blue and White said to prefer Likud get first crack at building coalition

Officials in centrist party reportedly seek to pass the buck, as candidate who has second attempt could be better positioned to succeed

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz looks on during a press conference in the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv, on September 19, 2019.  (JACK GUEZ / AFP)
Blue and White leader Benny Gantz looks on during a press conference in the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv, on September 19, 2019. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

The Joint List’s nomination of Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz as prime minister appears likely to tip the scales in his favor and give the centrist party first crack at forming a coalition. But sources in Blue and White told Hebrew media on Sunday night that they would prefer to pass the buck and take their shot after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tries — and fails — to build the next government.

President Reuven Rivlin began his consultations with political parties on Sunday, meeting with the five largest parties to receive their recommendations on the candidate who should be tasked with assembling the next coalition.

During the talks, Blue and White and the Joint List backed Gantz, Likud and Shas nominated Netanyahu, and Yisrael Beytenu refrained from endorsing either candidate. Rivlin will meet with the remaining parties on Monday afternoon and make a decision later this week or early next week.

Currently, Gantz is expected to receive 57 recommendations for the premiership, compared to 55 right-wing and religious votes for Netanyahu. Blue and White also won two seats more than Likud in Tuesday’s election, compounding Gantz’s chances of being given the first chance at building a government.

Sources in the centrist Blue and White, however, expressed a preference for allowing Likud to first try to cobble together a coalition. They assessed that the party leader who comes second would be more successful, as politicians will feel the heat to avoid another round of elections.

President Reuven Rivlin speaks during a meeting with members of the Likud party, to decide who to task with trying to form a new government, in Jerusalem on September 22, 2019. (Menahem KAHANA / AFP)

Officials in the President’s Residence told the Haaretz daily that Rivlin would not take into account such preferences by the leading political parties.

The president has the power to appoint one of the 120 MKs elected on Tuesday as the next potential prime minister of Israel. The designated premier must then attempt to cobble together a coalition that wins the support of a majority of Knesset members. Once a candidate is chosen by the president, that individual has 28 days to present a coalition to the new Knesset and win a vote of confidence. The president is allowed to extend that period by up to 14 days.

If the candidate fails, the second most likely candidate is given a shot at forming a coalition.

Should the second candidate fail, new elections are called, unless any of the 120 MKs musters the support of 61 lawmakers backing his leadership.

As it stands, neither party has a path to a coalition without each other. In Tuesday’s election, Gantz’s Blue and White emerged as the larger party, according to almost-final results, at 33 seats, while Netanyahu’s Likud won 31. Netanyahu heads a right-wing and ultra-Orthodox bloc of 55 MKs. Gantz heads a bloc of 44 centrist and left-wing MKs.

The 13 Arab lawmakers have backed Gantz for prime minister but ruled out joining a coalition. In the kingmaker position is Yisrael Beytenu, which has vowed to force a coalition with both Likud and Blue and White, with eight seats.

Netanyahu last week urged Gantz to form a national unity government under his leadership. The Blue and White leader rebuffed the offer, noting his party received more seats and should therefore lead such a coalition. Gantz has insisted that Netanyahu, who is facing a looming criminal indictment, relinquish the premiership as a condition for a Blue and White-Likud alliance.

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