President Reuven Rivlin reportedly asked not to be seated next to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at an event in Jerusalem on Sunday evening commemorating Israeli troops killed in battle, amid discussions this week on who will be tasked with forming the next government.
“These are sensitive days of consultations with [political] factions,” organizers of the event said, according to Channel 12 news, referring to talks Rivlin will hold this week with party leaders on who should become prime minister.
Rivlin is set to begin consultations on Monday with leaders and senior representatives of the 11 parties that won Knesset seats in last Tuesday’s elections, to receive their recommendations for the candidate who should be tasked with forming the next government. The president will meet with the representatives of parties by order of size, his office said, beginning with the party with the most seats and ending with those that attained the fewest.
Rivlin seems certain 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 (36 seats), the ultra-Orthodox Shas (eight seats), United Torah Judaism (seven), the Union of Right-Wing Parties (five), Kulanu (four), and likely Yisrael Beytenu (five).
Pictures from Sunday’s memorial event showed that while Netanyahu and Rivlin greeted each other, they indeed were not seated next to each other.
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.
On Sunday, Gantz’s Blue and White party said it would recommend him as prime minister when the faction’s heads meet with Rivlin this week.
“We will recommend Benny Gantz for the head of government. Over a million people chose us in order to lead and replace the government,” the party said in statement.
Blue and White, an alliance of former military chief Gantz’s Israel Resilience party and Yair Lapid’s centrist Yesh Atid, finished as the second-largest party in last week’s elections with 35 seats, one fewer than Netanyahu’s Likud.
In addition to heading the largest party, Netanyahu has the clearest path to assembling a ruling coalition, in light of right-wing and religious parties receiving a majority of Knesset seats, making it all but assured Rivlin will give him the first shot at forming a government.
“We will respect the president’s decision and we thank him for the invitation to consultations,” Blue and White said.
Blue and White’s delegation to its Monday meeting with Rivlin will be headed by Gabi Ashkenazi, a former IDF chief and No. 4 on the party’s list, along with soon-to-be MKs Avi Nissenkorn, Orna Barbivai, Ram Ben Barak, Zvi Hauser, Orli Fruman, and Omer Yankelevich.
Netanyahu was confirmed Thursday night as the big winner of the elections, when the Central Elections Committee published the completed tallies of Tuesday’s election, a full 60 hours after the polling stations closed. He has held power consecutively for the past decade, and also was prime minister in 1996-1999, and would thus be starting his fifth term in office; by July, he would overtake David Ben-Gurion as Israel’s longest serving prime minister.
All of the right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties have said they will recommend Netanyahu, with the exception of Yisrael Beytenu’s Avigdor Liberman, who has said he will not recommend Gantz, but has not yet committed to naming Netanyahu. Without Liberman, Netanyahu could only muster 60 seats, but Liberman would not likely vote with the entire opposition, including Arab parties, to block such a coalition. Moreover, Netanyahu is strongly expected to seek to find a way to include Liberman, possibly rewarding him with a senior post and considering compromise formulas to reconcile the secular Liberman and the ultra-Orthodox parties.
The consultations with faction heads will be held at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem. On Monday, Rivlin will meet with Likud, Blue and White, Shas, United Torah Judaism, Hadash-Ta’al and Labor. On Tuesday, he will consult with the leaders of Yisrael Beytenu, the Union of Right-Wing Parties, Meretz, Kulanu, and Ra’am-Balad.
Rivlin announced Wednesday that the talks will be broadcast live on various media for the first time, “in the name of transparency” and “in a historic and pioneering decision.”