Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin NetanyahuBenjamin (Bibi) NetanyahuMORE was tapped Tuesday to try to cobble together a governing coalition as lawmakers look for a way to avoid an unprecedented fifth snap election in two years.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, who serves mostly as a figurehead president, said he believes Netanyahu has the best chance of putting together a coalition that would hold a majority in the country’s parliament.
Netanyahu’s Likud party scored 30 seats in the most recent election, which together with its right-wing and ultra-Orthodox partners holds 52 seats. That means the prime minister oversees the bloc that won the most seats earlier last month, though he still falls short of the 61 seats needed to form a majority in the 120-seat Knesset.
“I have come to a decision based on the numbers of recommendations, which indicates that MK Benjamin Netanyahu has a slightly higher chance of forming a government. Accordingly, I have decided to entrust him with the task of doing so,” Rivlin said in his announcement.
“This is not an easy decision on a moral and ethical basis, in my mind…[T]he State of Israel is not to be taken for granted. And I fear for my country,” he added. “But I am doing what is required of me as President of the State of Israel, according to the law and to the ruling of the court, and realizing the will of the sovereign – the Israeli people.”
I have come to a decision based on the numbers of recommendations, which indicates that MK Benjamin Netanyahu has a slightly higher chance of forming a government. Accordingly, I have decided to entrust him with the task of doing so.— Reuven Rivlin (@PresidentRuvi) April 6, 2021
Rivlin’s decision grants Netanyahu 28 days to try to put together a coalition that would garner the necessary seats to hold a Knesset majority with the possibility that his efforts could be extended by 14 days. Should Netanyahu fail, Rivlin can tap another person to try to put together a government.
Rivlin’s move to tap Netanyahu came a day after the president met with representatives of all 13 parties that won seats to the Knesset to get their recommendations over who should craft a coalition.
March’s elections were the fourth snap election to take place in two years after repeated attempts to win a 61-seat coalition, an unprecedented pace that underscored the political divisions throughout the country.
Netanyahu has vowed to form a “full-on right-wing government,” though has struggled to get unanimous backing from the myriad small right-wing parties that have won seats. He would also need to walk the tightrope of convincing another hard-right party to come to his side in a coalition that includes a small Arab, Islamist party.
The 90 seats that Likud did not win are split among several parties, with the centrist Yesh Atid party winning the second-most seats in March at 17. Netanyahu’s more centrist and liberal opponents, however, have remained too fractured to put together a coalition to rival Likud’s.
“The president fulfilled his duty and he had no choice,” Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid said just after Rivlin’s announcement. “But giving the mandate to Netanyahu is a shameful disgrace that tarnishes Israel and casts shame on our status as a law-abiding state.”
The coming weeks will be crucial for Netanyahu as he also seeks to combat corruption charges against him. Remaining in power could help Netanyahu beat charges of fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes in three separate cases.
Netanyahu has pleaded not guilty to all the charges and has said the case against him is a “witch hunt.”