The Central Elections Committee (CEC) presented President Reuven Rivlin with the official election results on Wednesday morning, the next stage in the election process following last week’s vote.
After receiving the results from CEC chairman and Supreme Court Justice Uzi Vogelman at his official residence in Jerusalem, Rivlin called for “unusual collaborations” to solve the extended political deadlock.
The committee verified the election results on Tuesday and said no significant evidence of voter fraud was found.
On Monday, April 5, Rivlin will meet with representatives of all elected parties to hear whom they recommend be given the mandate, or the opportunity, to form the next government. The same day will see the start of the evidentiary stage of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s criminal trial for alleged corruption — the years-long parallel process that is seen by many as the source of the country’s political paralysis.
The following day, the new Knesset’s members will be sworn into office.
Rivlin will announce on April 7 who will be given the mandate to form the next government, based on who he assesses has the best chance of doing so.
After receiving the results, Rivlin said his main consideration in picking a candidate would be their “chance of forming a government that will win the Knesset’s endorsement” — a possible indication that he won’t necessarily pick the lawmaker with the most formal recommendations.
Rivlin said the extended political crisis harms Israel’s democracy, and called for a government that will “pass the state budget, oversee the healing of systems and citizens hurt, and rescue state bodies from the political freeze we have landed in at a time when the people needs the state bodies more than ever.”
The president said he hoped Knesset members will “hear the nation’s demand for unusual collaborations, inter-community cooperation and professional and dedicated work for the benefit of all Israeli citizens.”
Following Rivlin’s comments, several senior Likud officials suggested the president was playing politics rather than fulfilling his quasi-constitutional duty.
“The president does not determine the election results! He must not become a political player,” said Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin, Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz and Public Security Minister Amir Ohana in a rare joint statement.
“Since the establishment of the state, all the presidents of Israel have given the first opportunity to form a government to the candidate who received the most about of recommendations — and this should be the case this time as well,” the three ministers said.
Party leaders including Netanyahu, Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid and Yamina’s Naftali Bennett have been jostling for position since last week’s inconclusive election, Israel’s fourth in two years.
Neither the pro- nor anti-Netanyahu blocs have a clear path to a majority coalition, with Bennett’s right-wing Yamina party and Mansour Abbas’s Islamist Ra’am faction holding the balance of power. Bennett, with seven seats, and Abbas, with four, have not committed to either bloc.
Abbas has been courted by both sides since the election, but has been silent on which side he prefers. A Tuesday report claimed he is leaning toward giving outside support to a Netanyahu-led government.
He has met with party leaders opposed to Netanyahu, including Lapid, Blue and White’s Benny Gantz and Labor’s Merav Michaeli, to discuss a potential coalition.
On Saturday, Likud lawmaker Ayoub Kara visited Abbas and sought to portray him as different from other Arab lawmakers who have long been anathema to Israel’s right-wing.
Abbas is reportedly conditioning his support on a series of demands for the Arab community, including funding to combat crime, amending the so-called Jewish nation-state law, granting building permits to Arab communities, and raising the percentage of Arab workers in the public sector.
Abbas is expected to give a public statement in Hebrew on Thursday.
Neither political bloc has a clear path to a coalition even with Abbas’s backing, however, due to ideological differences among the parties in each prospective bloc.
Right-wing lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have ruled out partnering with Arab parties, complicating any potential majority coalition, which would likely require their support.
The anti-Netanyahu bloc is also contending with disputes over who will lead it.
New Hope party leader Gideon Sa’ar on Tuesday urged Lapid, who heads the largest faction in the anti-Netanyahu camp, to “put ego aside,” in an apparent call to let Bennett serve as prime minister first in a potential rotation deal.
But Lapid insisted parties in the bloc must first recommend him as their candidate for prime minister, so that Rivlin charges him with forming a government. Once that happens, Lapid said, there will be “nothing I’m unwilling to consider.”
Before the March 23 election, Bennett ruled out sitting in a government headed by Lapid, as did Sa’ar, whose New Hope has six seats.
Lapid, whose 17-seat centrist party is the largest in the “change bloc” seeking to replace Netanyahu as premier, has met with several fellow faction leaders in recent days as part of coalition-building efforts. He has so far been endorsed by the Yisrael Beytenu (seven seats), Labor (seven) and Meretz (six) parties to form the next government — for a total of 37 backers. Five members of the six-strong Joint List may also recommend Lapid.
Gantz said Tuesday that his Blue and White party (eight seats) would “automatically” back Lapid, provided that support would lift him to a 61-strong majority in the 120-member Knesset.
Netanyahu, whose Likud won 30, can also expect the endorsement of Shas (nine), United Torah Judaism (seven) and Religious Zionism (six) — 52 seats in all.
Channel 13 news asserted that representatives for Lapid and Bennett have agreed in principle to switch off as prime minister, but the two remain at odds over who will be premier first.
A key concern shared by the two is that if they form a government and Netanyahu leaves politics, the other will then be able to assemble an alternative coalition without handing over the premiership, according to the report.
The network also said Bennett was expected to meet with both Lapid and Netanyahu by the end of the week.
Netanyahu is also believed to be searching for “defectors” in parties opposed to him who will tip him over the edge for a majority, particularly in New Hope, which is ideologically close to Likud and stocked with former Likud members, but which opposes Netanyahu’s continued rule.
New Hope lawmakers have said Likud offered them hefty rewards to jump ship, but have refused to do so.