Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reportedly spoken with senior Likud party members about not recommending anyone to form the next government when representatives from the ruling party meet Sunday with President Reuven Rivlin.
Rivlin will meet all the newly elected Knesset factions on Sunday and Monday in order to decide whom to task with forming a government after last week’s election left neither Netanyahu’s Likud nor Benny Gantz’s Blue and White with a clear path to a majority coalition.
According to Channel 13 news, for Likud, not recommending anyone as premier would be a move aimed at ensuring Rivlin taps Gantz first to form a government, on the assumption that he would fail.
The mandate to assemble a coalition would then go to Netanyahu, who the network said argued that he would have an easier time putting together a government after Gantz fails, despite lacking a majority along with his allies on the religious right.
The report said Netanyahu would make a final decision about whom to recommend before Likud members meet with Rivlin Sunday evening.
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 lawmaker must then attempt to cobble together a coalition that wins the support of a majority of Knesset members.
Tuesday’s election ended in an apparent deadlock, with Gantz’s Blue and White emerging as the larger party according to almost-final results, at 33 seats, and incumbent premier Netanyahu’s Likud winning 31. Netanyahu heads a right-wing and ultra-Orthodox bloc of 55 MKs. Gantz heads a bloc of 44 centrist and left-wing MKs. If the Joint List alliance of Arab-majority parties recommends Gantz, the Blue and White leader would have the support of at least 57 members of Knesset. Yisrael Beytenu, with eight seats, holds the balance of power between the blocs and has yet to announce who, if anyone, it will recommend to Rivlin.
According to a report Sunday from the Kan public broadcaster, officials in Blue and White reached out to colleagues in the Joint List to request that they wait with their decision as to whether they will support Gantz when the president consults with them. The report said Blue and White was deliberating whether to let Netanyahu have the first shot at forming a coalition, assuming he would fail.
Once a candidate is chosen by the president, they have 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.
Rivlin has promised to do “everything in his power” to prevent the country from heading to an unprecedented third consecutive election within a year.
There also remains a final and dramatic option at Rivlin’s disposal: If no candidate wins the 61 recommendations for an outright appointment, the president may decide to force a national unity government.
It is within Rivlin’s constitutional purview to offer both Gantz and Netanyahu an ultimatum: agree to a national unity government, dividing the premiership by rotation, or see their opponent get the first chance at forming a government.
Rivlin’s office said Thursday the president would receive each party’s recommendation for premier, and would then meet with the recommended candidates.
The process is expected to take two days, with Rivlin meeting the parties in descending order of their Knesset size. On Sunday evening, he is set to meet with representatives of Blue and White, Likud, the Arab parties’ Joint List, Shas and Yisrael Beytenu. On Monday morning, he is set to meet with representatives from United Torah Judaism, Yamina, Labor-Gesher and Democratic Union.
President’s Residence Director General Harel Tubi sent formal invitations on Thursday to all party leaders.
As was the case after April’s elections, “the meetings with the parties will be broadcast live on all platforms, to ensure transparency for Israeli citizens,” Rivlin’s office said.
Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.