Coalition deadline expires Wednesday night. But Netanyahu may yet have more time

With clock ticking down, PM may seek to exercise never-before-used provision to secure another 2 weeks for negotiations if no deal is reached when supposedly final deadline expires

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at an event marking one year since the transfer of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, on May 14, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at an event marking one year since the transfer of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, on May 14, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

On Wednesday, at 11:59 p.m., the deadline for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to form the next government will officially expire, according to the president’s office, possibly heralding new elections.

But should he fail to build a coalition by then, Netanyahu may actually be able to buy himself another 14 more days, exercising a never-before-used legal provision, analysts say.

Netanyahu has yet to ink a deal with any of his prospective coalition partners. With time rapidly running out, Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman has shown no indication he will budge on the key issue in the talks: the ultra-Orthodox military enlistment bill, which he insists must be passed into law unchanged, while the Haredi parties seek revisions to soften the contentious legislation.

The Likud party on Sunday said it was hoping for a breakthrough in the talks, but was preparing for elections in the event the standoff persists.

Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman is seen during the ceremony for the swearing-in of the 21st Knesset on April 30, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Likud won 35 seats in the April 9 election. Two ultra-Orthodox parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism (UTJ), each won eight seats. Moshe Kahlon’s center-right Kulanu won four. And the hawkish Union of Right-Wing Parties (URWP) won five. Together, these parties hold 60 seats in the 120-member Knesset, and Netanyahu therefore also needs the secular, right-wing Yisrael Beytenu party, with its five seats, for a majority.

Without Yisrael Beytenu, Likud could theoretically form a minority government, provided Liberman and his party did not vote against such a coalition. However, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon ruled out such a possibility during a meeting Thursday with Netanyahu and other party leaders, Hebrew-language media reported.

Should Liberman continue to dig his heels in through Wednesday night, Netanyahu would more likely seek to secure another two-week reprieve under the law.

Once Netanyahu’s deadline expires, President Reuven Rivlin has the option to approach another Knesset member and task them with forming a government. But with no clear path for the second-largest party, Blue and White, to form a coalition, he is unlikely to offer the option to the opposition, according to Channel 12’s Amit Segal.

The president could also turn to Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein and ask to dissolve the Knesset, kicking off new elections.

President Reuven Rivlin (right) presents Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with a two-week extension to form a new government, May 13, 2019. (Haim Zach, GPO)

Then there is the third scenario: The Basic Law: The Government says that under these circumstances, “a majority of the members of the Knesset may request, in writing, that the President of the State assign the task [of forming a government] to a particular member of the Knesset.”

If 61 or more MKs back Netanyahu in writing, which is likely as even Yisrael Beytenu has said it won’t endorse anyone but Netanyahu for the job, he can be granted another 14 days for coalition talks.

But that gambit, too, puts Netanyahu again at the mercy of Liberman, whose support he would need to extend his mandate.

The prime minister may also have other reasons to be wary of this option: Netanyahu has previously expressed suspicion that Rivlin could hand the job to a different Likud member, such as rival Gideon Sa’ar, given the opportunity, though the president has shown no sign of doing so.

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