Likud lawmakers lashed out at President Reuven Rivlin Wednesday, accusing him of being in cahoots with the prime minister’s rivals, after the president urged the various party leaders to engage in “out-of-the-ordinary coalitions, collaborations that cross sectors,” in order to break the extended political deadlock, and lamented the Netanyahu-led government’s failure to pass a budget.
The president is set to begin consultations with the political parties on Monday, following last week’s national election, the fourth in two years. On Wednesday, he is expected to task a candidate with forming a government.
Since the election yielded no sure winner, it was not immediately clear if he would entrust the task to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — whose Likud party won the most seats but lacks a clear path to forming a coalition — or another, as-yet unspecified candidate such as Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid or Yamina’s Naftali Bennett who could muster more support.
“The president has a duty to respect the will of the electorate, to act as a statesman and to refrain from other considerations,” Transportation Minister Miri Regev said in a statement that was released as part of an apparently coordinated attack on Rivlin by Likud officials.
“It is not appropriate for a president who’s ending his term in about a month to make decisions contrary to the tradition that has always been practiced — handing a mandate to form a government to whoever gets the most recommenders,” Regev charged.
MK Shlomo Karhi and several other Likud lawmakers went a step further, accusing Rivlin of directly working to benefit New Hope chair Gideon Sa’ar, with whom he is known to have a close personal relationship, and calling on the president to recuse himself.
“The president’s personal ties and duty to Gideon Sa’ar, the latter’s mission to overthrow Netanyahu, together with the president’s hostility to the most likely candidate, Netanyahu… require the president to transfer [the decision on who should be] forming the government to the next in line, according to the law,” Karhi said.
Receiving the official election results earlier Wednesday, Rivlin said his central consideration in picking a candidate to form the next government would be their “chance of forming a government that will win the Knesset’s endorsement” — a possible indication that he wouldn’t necessarily pick the lawmaker with the most formal recommendations.
Rivlin said the extended political crisis was harmful to Israel’s democracy, and called for a government that will “pass the state budget, oversee the healing of damaged systems and citizens, and rescue state bodies from the political freeze we have landed in at a time when the people needs the state bodies more than ever.”
The president added: “I truly hope that the elected officials, representatives of the public, are able to hear the Israeli people and their call for out-of-the-ordinary coalitions, collaborations that cross sectors, working in a serious and dedicated way for the good of all of Israel’s citizens.”
If 61 or more of the 120 MKs recommend one candidate, Rivlin will almost certainly task that candidate with building a coalition. But if they don’t, there is no clear guideline as to how Rivlin must decide whom to entrust with leading the government, and few legal limitations.
By law, the prime-minister-designate can be any of the 120 newly elected MKs. She or he does not have to be the head of the largest party, or even the head of a party at all.
But senior Likud officials are claiming, without precedent or legal foundation, that Rivlin must appoint the candidate with the most recommendations.
“The president does not determine the election results! He must not become a political player,” said Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, Public Security Minister Amir Ohana and Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin in a rare joint statement Wednesday morning.
“Since the establishment of the state, all the presidents of Israel have given the first opportunity to form a government to the candidate who received the largest number of recommendations — and this should be the case this time as well,” the three said.
Responding to the barrage of Likud criticism, the president’s office noted that Rivlin has no obligation to appoint the candidate who receives the most recommendations, and said he would not be pressured by others into any specific decision.
“As the president said, the main consideration that will guide him in choosing the candidate on whom he will place the task of forming the government is the candidate’s chances of forming a government that will win the Knesset’s trust,” a statement from the president’s office said.
“This is what all the presidents of Israel have done for generations and this is how the president has acted in all the previous election campaigns,” the statement added.
Likud’s political rivals took a sharper tone in their response to the criticism of Rivlin, accusing Netanyahu of crossing a line.
“Likud’s attack on the president is further proof that there are only two options: either Netanyahu’s continued rule and a savage attack on state institutions, or joining the bloc of change and a change of government,” Yesh Atid chair Yair wrote on Twitter.
Also writing on Twitter, Blue and White head Benny Gantz charged, “There is no state institution that the prime minister and his accomplices will not trample on,” citing previous attacks on the justice system in defense of Netanyahu.
“President Rivlin, as you have always done, continue to perform your duties honestly, fairly, and with statesmanship, while considering all the considerations in choosing who to form a coalition, just as the law allows you to,” Gantz said.
Meretz chair Nitzan Horowitz similarly slammed the Likud efforts to discredit Rivlin, saying they “cross every boundary.”
On Monday, April 5, Rivlin will meet with representatives of all elected parties to hear whom they recommend be given the mandate, or the opportunity, to form the next government. The same day will see the start of the evidentiary stage of Netanyahu’s criminal trial for alleged corruption — the years-long parallel process that is seen by many as the source of the country’s political paralysis.
Rivlin will then announce on April 7 who will be given the mandate to form the next government, based on who he assesses has the best chance of doing so.
Neither the pro- nor anti-Netanyahu blocs have a clear path to a majority coalition, with Bennett’s right-wing Yamina party and Mansour Abbas’s Islamist Ra’am faction holding the balance of power. Bennett, with seven seats, and Abbas, with four, have not committed to either bloc.
Lapid, whose 17-seat centrist party is the largest in the “change bloc” seeking to replace Netanyahu as premier, has met with several fellow faction leaders in recent days as part of coalition-building efforts. He has so far been endorsed by the Yisrael Beytenu (seven seats), Labor (seven) and Meretz (six) parties to form the next government — for a total of 37 backers. Five members of the six-strong Joint List may also recommend Lapid.
Gantz said Tuesday that his Blue and White party (eight seats) would “automatically” back Lapid, provided that support would lift him to a 61-strong majority in the 120-member Knesset.
Netanyahu, whose Likud won 30, can also expect the endorsement of Shas (nine), United Torah Judaism (seven) and Religious Zionism (six) — 52 seats in all.