President lays out schedule for meetings with party heads, to be streamed live

Currently, no politician has viable path to forming government; after calling for ‘unusual collaborations,’ president said likely to ask parties for their 2nd choice for PM as well

President Reuven Rivlin speaks during a ceremony of receiving the official results of the election at the President's Residence in Jerusalem on March 31, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
President Reuven Rivlin speaks during a ceremony of receiving the official results of the election at the President's Residence in Jerusalem on March 31, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

President Reuven Rivlin will meet with leaders of elected parties Monday for consultations on their preferred candidate for forming the next government following the March 23 Knesset elections.

The president’s office issued the planned schedule for the April 5 consultations:

  • 9:30 a.m. — Likud
  • 10:15 a.m. — Yesh Atid
  • 11:00 a.m. — Shas
  • 11:45 a.m. — Blue and White
  • 12:30 p.m. — Yamina
  • 1:15 p.m. — United Torah Judaism
  • 2:00 p.m. — Labor
  • 4:00 p.m. — Yisrael Beytenu
  • 4:45 p.m. — Religious Zionism
  • 5:30 p.m. — Joint List
  • 6:15 p.m. — New Hope
  • 7:00 p.m. — Meretz
  • 7:45 p.m. — Ra’am

Similar to discussions after last year’s election, the consultations will be streamed on the president’s social media channels. The increased transparency of the process has been seen as a reaction to allies of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu making various conspiratorial allegations against the president, claiming he is attempting to unseat Netanyahu by arranging shadowy political pacts.

Rivlin is expected to 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. That person will then have 28 days — or until May 5 — to present his or her government. If the candidate fails to do so by that time, he or she can request a two week extension, until May 19, though the president is not obligated to approve it.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Yair Lapid (R). (Flash90)

If the person with the mandate does not succeed in forming a government, the president can either task a second person with the attempt (for another period of 28 days and a possible additional 14), or send the mandate back to the Knesset, giving the legislature 21 days to agree on a candidate supported by 61 MKs. If the president appoints a second person and that person also fails to assemble a coalition, the mandate automatically returns to the Knesset for the 21-day period. During that time, any MK is eligible to attempt forming a government.

At the end of the 21-day period, if no candidate has been agreed upon by 61 MKs, the new Knesset automatically disbands and the country heads to yet another election.

Seeking solutions to deadlock

Ahead of the meetings, Rivlin on Wednesday called 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 calling for an alliance of anti-Netanyahu parties and accused him of playing politics rather than fulfilling his quasi-constitutional duty.

Workers hang an election campaign billboard for the Likud Party showing a portrait of its leader Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, lower right, and opposition party leader Yair Lapid, upper right, next to a billboard of the Yisrael Beitenu Party showing its leader Avigdor Lieberman, in Bnei Brak, Sunday, March. 14, 2021. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

But Likud, too, would also likely need “unusual collaborations” if it hopes to clinch a majority in the divided Knesset.

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.

According to Channel 12 news, in a bid to find some common ground among parties, Rivlin was expected to ask party heads for their second choice for prime minister, and to try to understand who they utterly rule out cooperating with.

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.

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.

Monday will also 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.

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