President Reuven Rivlin will on Monday begin consultations with leaders and senior representatives of the 11 parties that won Knesset seats in Monday’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 in order of size, his office said, beginning with the party with the largest number of seats and ending with those that gained the fewest.
Rivlin seems certain to entrust the task of forming a government to Prime Minister Benjamin 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), Union of Right-Wing Parties (five), Kulanu (four), and, maybe, Yisrael Beytenu (five).
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 from 1996-9, 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.
With all of the votes counted, checked and rechecked, Netanyahu’s Likud party edged past its rival Blue and White party with 26.45 percent of the vote to win 36 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, gaining one more seat in the adjusted final tally. His main rival Benny Gantz’s centrist Blue and White faction was confirmed at 35 seats, 26.11% of ballots.
When asked Friday morning if Blue and White stands by its pre-election claim that the party with the most seats should have first shot at forming a coalition, or whether it thinks it could form a government, a spokesperson for Blue and White had no comment.
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. Nonetheless, Netanyahu would emphatically seek to find a way to include Liberman, possibly rewarding him with a senior post and seeking 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 Beyteinu, Union of Right-Wing Parties, Meretz, Kulanu and Ra’am-Balad.
Rivlin announced Wednesday that the talks will be broadcast live on various media “in the name of transparency” and for the first time, “in a historic and pioneering decision.”
The talks with party representatives will focus on who should get the first opportunity at assembling a ruling majority. The president will then hold negotiations on building a coalition with that candidate, presumably Netanyahu. This Knesset member, who does not necessarily need to have received the most recommendations or be the head of the largest party, will then have 28 days to form a government, with the possibility of a two-week extension at the discretion of the president.
In the run-up to election day, Netanyahu highlighted what he said was the imperative for his Likud to be the largest party, claiming Rivlin would choose the head of the biggest party to assemble a government.
In a recording aired by Israeli television, the prime minister was heard saying Rivlin “is just looking for an excuse” to give other parties a shot at forming the next government, a claim strongly rejected by Rivlin.