President Reuven Rivlin will likely tap Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid with forming the next government if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fails to do so by the Tuesday night deadline, but will likely not consider offering it to Yamina leader Naftali Bennett, according to Hebrew media reports.
Netanyahu was given the first opportunity to cobble together a coalition, on April 6, after receiving 52 recommendations to Lapid’s 45.
Rivlin, who as Israel’s president is tasked with mandating a lawmaker to form a government, can give Netanyahu an extension after his 28 days end Tuesday night, hand the mandate to another lawmaker, or send it to the Knesset for a 21-day period, after which fifth elections would automatically be called if no one can form a government.
The president prefers the second option, according to Hebrew media reports Monday, and is slated to transfer the government-forming mandate to Lapid as he received the second most recommendations when Rivlin consulted with party representatives after the March 23.
Rivlin could also offer Bennett the chance to form a government, but the reports, citing senior political sources, said the president was unlikely to take this route. Even if Netanyahu and a majority of right-wing lawmakers choose to alter their recommendations to Rivlin in order to back Bennett, the president is not expected to transfer the mandate to the Yamina chair, the reports said.
This is because the move would largely be seen as an attempt to provide an extension for Netanyahu to form the government after he failed to do so for the past month, senior political figures who have spoken with Rivlin told Channel 12 and Ha’aretz.
Moreover, it would nullify the initial recommendations made by parties following the election, which are not meant to be subject to change.
“There is no reason why the mandate should not go to Lapid unless Bennett were to publicly announce that he has no interest in a ‘change’ government,” one senior political source told Haaretz, referring to the coalition of anti-Netanyahu parties seeking to oust the Likud leader.
While Bennett insists that he prefers joining a right-wing government, he noted again Monday that Netanyahu lacks the votes to form such a coalition and has said that Yamina is negotiating with Lapid to form a unity government as an alternative.
“Rivlin will not lend a hand to a political ploy in which Netanyahu will recommend Bennett, only to preserve the chances of an incumbent prime minister to send Israel back to the polls. If the scenario in which Netanyahu forms a right-wing government were possible, one would have been formed already,” the source added.
The official told Haaretz that it was also unlikely that Rivlin would send the matter to the Knesset to decide as this would likely be sentencing Israel to a fifth election in barely two years.
If the mandate goes to the Knesset, an absolute majority, of at least 61 of the 120 MKs, would be needed to vote in favor of a particular lawmaker to form the next government, and “there is no chance that the (the majority-Arab) Joint List and Ra’am parties will sign off on Bennett’s appointments,” the source said.
With less than two days remaining for him to form a coalition, Netanyahu said Monday that he was ready to step aside as premier and let Bennett serve as prime minister first in a rotation agreement — a proposal immediately dismissed by Bennett, who said in response that Netanyahu simply doesn’t have the votes.
Meanwhile, opposition leader Lapid said he expected Rivlin to task him with forming a government “if nothing surprising happens” before Tuesday night, but that he would willing to let Bennett serve first as prime minister in any rotation agreement between them.
Meanwhile, Channel 13 reported Monday night that Lapid has offered Bennett to become prime minister first in their power-sharing agreement for a period of 2 years and three months, after which Bennett would be appointed foreign minister and Lapid would assume the premiership.
Lapid is also promising a senior portfolio for Yamina’s Ayelet Shaked (either interior or public security), and two or three additional portfolios for members of the seven-MK right-wing party, if a government is formed.
Lapid is also willing to give Bennett’s right-wing bloc within a prospective unity coalition wide veto powers, the network said.
Netanyahu, by contrast, has offered that Bennett becomes prime minister first in a rotation deal, but only for a year; a senior portfolio for Shaked; and for Yamina to be eventually merged with Likud in a future election race.
Though Yamina won just seven seats in the March election, Bennett has become a potential kingmaker and even king.
The last elections, the fourth since April 2019, ended in gridlock, with Netanyahu’s right-wing religious bloc again coming short of a ruling majority, in part because three right-wing parties ran with the declared goal of replacing him.