President Reuven Rivlin on Wednesday officially tasked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with assembling a coalition to govern the 21st Knesset with a plea to Israel’s leader to soothe social divides after a combative election campaign.
“In democracies, the majority decides. And in these elections, the majority spoke its part,” Rivlin said at a press conference alongside Netanyahu, after officially handing him the appointment.
Netanyahu, who will be serving as prime minister for an unprecedented fifth term, is expected to cobble together a coalition of right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties after talks kick off Thursday.
Last week’s election saw him defeat challenger Benny Gantz, a former IDF chief who leads the Blue and White party, and who is expected to head the Knesset opposition.
“We’ve been through a difficult election campaign. A lot of things were said that shouldn’t have been said — from all sides — not in a Jewish state, and not in a democratic state,” Rivlin said.
“Us versus them is over, and now it’s just us,” added the president. “Now is the time to stop fighting ‘them’ and to regain faith in ‘us.'”
Netanyahu, in his remarks after Rivlin, vowed to represent all Israelis, “those that voted for me, and those that didn’t.”
The prime minister said he was as excited “as the first time” and perhaps more.
The two held closed talks before the public remarks.
The president’s decision to tap Netanyahu comes after senior members of parties representing 65 of the 120 Knesset members recommended Netanyahu for prime minister in consultations with Rivlin over the past two days.
Though Netanyahu’s Likud party tied with Blue and White at 35 seats apiece, the prime minister is the only one with enough potential partners to cobble together a coalition.
Netanyahu is likely to build a coalition of 65 seats comprising Likud (35 seats), Shas (8), United Torah Judaism (8), Union of Right-Wing Parties (5), Yisrael Beytenu (5) and Kulanu (4).
The opposition is expected to comprise Blue and White (35), Labor (6), Hadash-Ta’al (6), Meretz (4) and Ra’am-Balad (4).
After Rivlin’s selection, Netanyahu will have 28 days to form a government, with the possibility of a two-week extension at the discretion of the president.
Rivlin held meetings on Monday and Tuesday with representatives of the political parties voted into parliament for consultations ahead of the appointment.
Netanyahu and Rivlin have long been reported to be at loggerheads, with the prime minister saying ahead of last week’s Knesset elections that the president was looking for an “excuse” to task political rival Benny Gantz with assembling a coalition.
Rivlin strongly denounced Netanyahu’s comment, with his office saying it was a “despicable attempt” to undermine the public’s trust in his choice of who should get the first go at cobbling together a ruling majority.
Likud is expected to start coalition negotiations on Thursday with representatives of right-wing and Haredi factions.
Avigdor Liberman, whose secularist right-wing Yisrael Beytenu party won five seats in the election, said Monday he would recommend Netanyahu, likely cementing the Likud-led coalition, though Liberman said he would hold his ground on religious and state issues in a coalition likely to be dominated by the religious right.
The clash between religious and secular right-wing parties will likely complicate negotiations going forward.
The Knesset announced Tuesday that the newly elected members will be sworn in on April 30 at 4 p.m. (Israel time). The law dictates the swearing-in ceremony should take place 14 days after the elections, but the Knesset speaker delayed the ceremony due to the Jewish festival of Passover and the Christian holiday of Easter.