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Rivlin: Tasking Netanyahu ‘not easy on a moral basis… I fear for my country’

Setting out his decision to task Netanyahu with forming a coalition, Rivlin makes plain that he is deeply concerned at the overall state of Israeli politics, and the specific choice he says he has been “obligated” to make.

He says he knows that much of the public believes “the president should not give the role to a candidate who is facing criminal charges,” but that the law does not state any such thing.

Still, “this is not an easy decision on a moral and ethical basis, in my mind.” He adds: “I fear for my country. But I am doing what is required of me as president of the State of Israel…”

Strikingly, Rivlin makes his announcement alone — without Netanyahu at his side, as would be the norm when the president tasks a candidate with forming a coalition — underlining his reservations about his decision.

President Reuven Rivlin (R) tasks Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with forming a new government, during a press conference at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on September 25, 2019. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

Here are Rivlin’s remarks, edited for space, courtesy of the President’s Residence:

I was elected President of the State of Israel by a majority of members of the 19th Knesset. Since then, over the period of seven years, there have been five further Knesset elections, four of them in less than two years. I did not imagine and I did not expect that, time after time, five times, I would be faced with the difficult task of deciding whom to entrust with forming a government. I would also like for the President’s Residence not to be so directly involved in the political system. But that is my role, and as part of that role I undertake this task. Basic Law: The Government obliges me as President of the State of Israel to entrust the role of forming a government to a Knesset member who agrees to do so.

Israel’s democracy is nourished entirely by the will of the voter. The role of the president in selecting a candidate to entrust with forming a government is primarily one of giving expression to the will of the voter. Therefore, as I have said repeatedly in previous election campaigns, and again in recent days, the principal consideration that Israeli presidents must bear in mind when deciding whom to entrust with the task of forming a government is which candidate has the best chance of forming a government that will have the confidence of the new Knesset.

The results of the consultations, which were open to all, lead me to believe that no candidate has a realistic chance of forming a government that will have the confidence of the Knesset. In fact, if the law would allow me to do so, I would give the decision back to the representatives of the people, to the Knesset. But as I have said, I cannot do so according to law. In the position in which we find ourselves today, the law obliges me to entrust one of the candidates with forming a government.

After consulting with the representatives of all the factions in the Knesset, the following picture has emerged: 52 MKs requested that I entrust MK Benjamin Netanyahu with forming a government. 45 MKs requested that I entrust MK Yair Lapid with forming a government. 7 MKs requested that I entrust MK Naftali Bennett with forming a government. 16 MKs did not make any recommendation to me.

I know the position held by many, that the president should not give the role to a candidate that is facing criminal charges, but according to the law and the decision of the courts, a prime minister can continue in his role even when he is facing charges. Moreover, the question of giving the role to a candidate facing criminal charges was one of intense political and public disagreement over the recent election campaigns. Because of that, I believed that the president should avoid deciding based on that consideration out of a sense of responsibility for the institution of the presidency and the trust in which it is held by all parts of the people. The President of the State of Israel is not a substitute for the legislature or for the judiciary. It is the role of the Knesset to decide on the substantive and ethical question of the fitness of a candidate facing criminal charges to serve as prime minister.

Given this state of affairs, when there is no majority of 61 Knesset members supporting a particular candidate, and without additional considerations indicating the chances of the candidates to form a government, I have come to a decision based on the numbers of recommendations, which indicates that MK Benjamin Netanyahu has a slightly higher chance of forming a government. Accordingly, I have decided to entrust him with the task of doing so.

This is not an easy decision on a moral and ethical basis, in my mind. As I said at the beginning of my remarks, the State of Israel is not to be taken for granted. And I fear for my country. But I am doing what is required of me as president of the State of Israel, according to the law and to the ruling of the court, and realizing the will of the sovereign – the Israeli people.

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