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Rivlin set to task candidate with forming government; Netanyahu has most backers

Prime minister seen as mostly likely to receive mandate, with 52 lawmakers supporting him, but no one has clear path to forming a majority coalition

President Reuven Rivlin meets with the Yesh Atid party at the President's Residence in Jerusalem, April 5, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
President Reuven Rivlin meets with the Yesh Atid party at the President's Residence in Jerusalem, April 5, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

President Reuven Rivlin will task a lawmaker with attempting to form a government on Tuesday, a day after holding consultations with political parties to hear their preferred candidate.

Rivlin met with representatives from all 13 incoming political parties at his official residence in Jerusalem on Monday. He will hand the mandate to form the next government to the candidate he assesses has the best chance of doing so, based on Monday’s recommendations from party representatives.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu garnered the most support, with 52 incoming lawmakers backing his candidacy, but no candidate has a clear path to forming a majority coalition of 61 lawmakers in the 120-seat Knesset.

The March 23 election was Israel’s fourth inconclusive vote in two years, and polls have shown that a majority of the public believes the country is careening toward a fifth election.

Netanyahu was endorsed by his Likud party, with 30 seats, Shas, with 9, United Torah Judaism, 7, and Religious Zionism, 6.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sits at a hearing in his corruption trial at Jerusalem District Court, April 5, 2021. (Oren Ben Hakoon/POOL)

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid was recommended as prime minister by 45 lawmakers (Yesh Atid 17, Blue and White 8, Yisrael Beytenu 7, Labor 7, Meretz 6), and Naftali Bennett by the seven members of his own Yamina party.

The three parties that made no recommendation account for the final 16 Knesset seats (New Hope 6, Joint List 6, and Ra’am 4).

Rivlin had been expected to declare the chosen candidate to form the government on Wednesday, but his office said he will make the announcement on Tuesday.

He was expected to select Netanyahu, due to his leading position, but it would not be a straightforward decision.

The so-called “change bloc” of parties that oppose Netanyahu’s continued rule — the factions that recommended Lapid, plus New Hope and the Joint List — have said they will not serve in a coalition led by the premier.

Some 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.

Yamina and Ra’am have not committed to either bloc, and potentially hold the balance of power between them.

The anti-Netanyahu bloc has also been hobbled by disputes over who would lead it. Lapid said Monday he had offered to let Bennett serve first as prime minister in a government that would see the two rotate the premiership, but Bennett was holding out for better terms.

Yesh Atid chief Yair Lapid speaks at party headquarters in Tel Aviv on March 24, 2021, after the release of exit polls for the Knesset elections. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

The complexity of the political stalemate was highlighted Monday by Netanyahu’s corruption trial, which began a new phase in Jerusalem on Monday, even as Rivlin met with party representatives.

The cases against Netanyahu have moved forward in a years-long parallel process to the political stalemate that is seen by many as the source of the country’s parliamentary paralysis.

The evidentiary stage of the trial began Monday, in a stunning accompaniment to Rivlin’s consultations across town, as the premier attended the start of the proceedings and then left, and a witness for the first time testified against Netanyahu.

Rivlin hinted that the corruption trial could play a role in his decision.

“There may be other considerations, including value-based considerations that I do not know if the president has the authority to consider,” Rivlin told Likud representatives, the first in line, after they recommended Netanyahu.

Earlier in the day’s consultations, Rivlin lamented that he could not see a way for anyone to form a coalition.

In stark comments, the president added that “after four election campaigns, democracy has exhausted itself.”

Ahead of the meetings, Rivlin last week called for “unusual collaborations, inter-community cooperation and professional and dedicated work for the benefit of all Israeli citizens.”

Supporters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu demonstrate outside the District Court in Jerusalem, as Netanyahu arrives for a hearing in his trial, April 05, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

If Rivlin selects Netanyahu on Tuesday, it will be the eighth time he is tasked with forming a government in 25 years.

After Rivlin announces his candidate for forming a government, that person will then have 28 days — or until May 4 — 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 18, though the president is not obligated to approve it.

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.

Netanyahu’s trial will continue on Tuesday morning, and later in the day, the new Knesset’s members will be sworn into office.

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