Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu secured the backing of a majority of Knesset members Tuesday as Yisrael Beytenu, the Union of Right-Wing Parties and Kulanu recommended him to form the next government in their official consultations with President Reuven Rivlin.
With 10 of the 11 parties elected to the Knesset having presented their recommendations to Rivlin (the Arab Ra’am-Balad party was meeting with him later Tuesday), Netanyahu has the backing of 65 MKs, a majority of the 120-seat Knesset. Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, in contrast, has just 45.
The president said his choice is now “all but certain” and he is expected to entrust the task of forming a government to Netanyahu, who is likely to be able to build a coalition of up to 65 seats comprising Likud (35 or 36 seats), the ultra-Orthodox Shas (8), United Torah Judaism (7 or 8), Union of Right-Wing Parties (5), Kulanu (4), and, likely, Yisrael Beytenu (5).
Rivlin is set to receive the official elections results and then meet with Netanyahu on Wednesday, and charge him with forming a government.
Taking Netanyahu over the 60-seat mark, Union of Right-Wing Parties leader Rafi Peretz said his party of five seats “felt that the people have made themselves clear and we represent the people who chose us. Therefore we recommend Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister.”
After the Union of Right-Wing Parties made its recommendation, Rivlin confirmed that no other candidate would be able to gain a majority and that “the scope of my consideration has been almost entirely removed.”
Netanyahu’s total was then taken to 65 seats with the center-right Kulanu also saying it would back him. MK Roy Folkman, representing the party, said that “the people have made clear who they want to be prime minister. We plan to work with him to advance our social platform.”
The second and final day of presidential consultations over who should be tasked with forming the next government kicked off in the morning with the Labor party giving its backing to Gantz and Yisrael Beytenu endorsing Netanyahu.
For the first time, the recommendations were broadcast live, a decision the president’s office announced last week “in the name of transparency” and “in a historic and pioneering decision.”
While recommending Netanyahu to form the next coalition, newly elected Yisrael Beytenu MK Yefgeni Suba, representing the party in the discussions with Rivlin, stressed that it would only commit to joining the government if its key demands were met.
“We said throughout the campaign that we would support a right-wing government and we think that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is the person to lead it,” Suba told Rivlin.
“But it doesn’t mean we will join the government. We have already said that,” he added, referring to comments made by Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman on Monday declaring he would hold his ground on religion and state issues. Rivlin confirmed that “the recommendation just means you think he is the best person for the job, but not that you have to support them.”
Speaking at a meeting of his party’s Central Committee in Jerusalem, Liberman threatened, “If we’re forced to choose between giving up on the [ultra-Orthodox] draft law to remain in the coalition, or sitting in the opposition, we will go to new elections.”
On Monday, the ultra-Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism parties also recommended Netanyahu to be prime minister and are needed in his coalition if he is to hold a majority in the Knesset.
In principle, Yisrael Beytenu’s backing of Netanyahu would cement the prime minister’s right-wing coalition at 65 seats in the 120-seat parliament.
But with Liberman holding five of those seats, he has just enough to bring Netanyahu to the brink of collapse if he leaves the coalition — as he did in November in a spat over what he said were disagreements with the prime minister’s Gaza policy, shrinking Netanyahu’s coalition at the time to just 61 seats.
MK Yulia Malinovsky told Rivlin on Tuesday that the party saw itself as “the protectors of secular Israel, while acting with respect for the religious.”
Liberman, whose base of supporters is largely made up of secular immigrants from the former Soviet Union, campaigned on opposing “religious coercion,” in addition to ending the Chief Rabbinate’s control over marriage and divorce, and passing legislation regulating — and limiting — exemptions to military conscription for ultra-Orthodox students.
Yisrael Beytenu’s recommendation came after Labor chairman Avi Gabbay told Rivlin that his party would be backing Gantz.
“I think that it is not good to have someone who has been prime minister for 10 years or more. It’s not healthy,” said Gabbay, who led the Labor party to its worst-ever result, picking up just six seats.
“On the other hand, the people have chosen. They made a decision and they chose. They chose Netanyahu,” he said. “But they didn’t choose him so that he could limit our democracy.”
In the first of a number of telling interjections, Rivlin told Gabbay in agreement, “A rule of the majority must not damage the minority. Everyone who is a citizen of Israel is the same. That is our strength and we must maintain that.”
To do so, Rivlin also urged that Labor and other parties push for Israel to adopt a full constitution. “Ben Gurion appointed the Constitution Committee to create one and it has been delayed since then. It is extremely important for the public. A constitution is what stands between the public and fear of government,” he said.
The left-wing Meretz party also recommended Gantz as prime minister, with its chairperson Tamar Zandberg saying it would “represent true left-wing values in whatever position it finds itself after the government has been formed.”
Ra’am-Balad leaders were meeting with the president Tuesday afternoon.
Rivlin will announce his decision after receiving the finalized results of the elections from the Central Elections Committee on Wednesday evening. After the president makes his selection, the chosen MK will have 28 days to form a government, with the possibility of a two-week extension at the discretion of the president.