Middle east

Time’s Up: Netanyahu Needs a Miracle to Form a Government by Midnight But Will It Happen?

At midnight, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will need to declare that he either managed to form a government or admit defeat, for a fourth time in two years. If he fails to fulfill the mandate, it will most likely be given to another contender, who will have 28 days to forge a coalition.

With several hours left until the mandate given to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to form a government expires, it appears the PM has run out of cards to play. 

In recent days, he’s stepped up efforts to form a coalition, but just like in previous rounds his attempts have hit a brick wall.

Miracle Needed

Defectors from other political parties didn’t betray their blocs, not only because trust in Netanyahu has eroded over the years but also because the smear media campaign that would be unleashed on those who dared to do so, would not be worth the effort.

Neither did the PM manage to convince his “natural allies” that reliance on Raam, an Islamic party that has previously been bashed for supporting Palestinian terrorists, wasn’t a sin.

In this file photo taken on 24 March 2021, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, leader of the Likud party, addresses supporters at the party campaign headquarters in Jerusalem after the end of voting in the fourth national election in two years.

Israel’s Defence Minister Benny Gantz, who has been courted by Netanyahu in recent days, has reiterated that his dealings with the PM are over, and that he’s committed to the establishment of an alternative government that would oust Netanyahu from office.

Similar comments have also been made by Netanyahu’s former ally-now-rival Gideon Saar, who also refused to sit in a coalition headed by the PM, whereas Naftali Bennett, Israel’s former defence minister and the chief of the hawkish party Yamina that received seven out of 120 seats in the Israeli parliament, showed that he was not at all committed to the PM and that he was open for talks with the bloc vowing to replace him.

Now Netanyahu will need a miracle to collect the 61 signatures needed to form a government. If by midnight that miracle doesn’t occur, the country’s President Reuven Rivlin can decide to entrust another candidate with the same task, giving them 28 days to forge a coalition.

Alternative Government? Not So Fast

There are two potential candidates for the task. One of them is the aforementioned Naftali Bennett, but reports suggest that Rivlin will be wary of giving him the mandate not only because he will have fewer signatures than other contenders but also because a leader that stands at the helm of a rather weak party (with only seven seats) cannot be crowned Israel’s prime minister.

Given these circumstances, the more natural choice for Rivlin would be to give the mandate to the head of Israel’s opposition Yair Lapid.

He too will have a hard time forging a coalition. Unlike Netanyahu, who struggled to come to terms with his natural partners, a bloc of parties that roughly adhere to the same ideology, Lapid will have a tougher nut to crack.

Comprised of seven parties with diametrically opposite ideologies, the bloc will find it hard to pass legislation on burning issues that bother ordinary Israelis, including the separation of state and religion, service of the Ultra-Orthodox in the IDF or the distribution of funds. Neither will they be able to agree on a number of foreign policy issues like the Iranian “threat” or even the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

That, however, will not stop Lapid from trying. In recent weeks, he’s stepped up negotiations with Bennett. He has promised him the seat of prime minister and offered him to be the first in rotation, if he agreed to join his bloc. 

Reports suggest that Bennett is inclined to accept the offer and the negotiations between the two have already made progress but major gaps still remain.

One of the challenges is the division of ministerial positions. Although Bennett will have fewer seats in that joint coalition, he will still want to make sure that his hawkish partners are placed in key governmental positions, something that Lapid and his liberal allies will find hard to swallow.

What they will also find hard to accept is the agenda that Bennett would like to bring to the table when it comes to the issue of the Palestinians, West Bank settlements, and the handling of terror suspects.

Right now, when the ultimate goal is to oust Netanyahu from office, Lapid might want to sweep these and other issues under the rug. But the question is whether he will be able to handle that hawkish approach, when and if he takes the prime minister’s seat.

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