It’s April all over again in Israel as President Reuven Rivlin has formally tasked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with forming the government. He now has 42 days to get 61 Members of the Knesset to support him to keep his job.
The news follows the final election results that had center-left Blue and White beating Netanyahu’s conservative Likud Party, 33-32. But Likud’s coalition stands at 55 compared to 54 for Blue and White. 61 seats are necessary to form a government.
Following the April election, Netanyahu was unable to form a government in time as Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beytenu Party left the conservative coalition and called for a unity government. They had been a part of the conservative block, but conflict over religious privileges that protected ultra-orthodox Jews made the conservative secular party leave.
Faced with failure, Netanyahu dissolved the Knesset before his main rival, Benny Gantz, was tapped to try to do what Netanyahu could not. This prompted the election this month with similar results as the first election.
Negotiations have been taking place between Likud and Blue and White to form the unity government many Israelis want, but they hit multiple impasses. It’s still possible, but would likely require Netanyahu to split time with Gantz as Prime Minister. This prospect seems to be acceptable to Likud as long as Netanyahu gets the first two of the four-year term, but Blue and White has refused to accept Netanyahu as PM as long as he’s facing charges for corruption.
The best chance Likud has at forming a government is by wooing Lieberman with concessions. The conservative religious parties in the block have been reluctant, but may be willing to give a little more this time to prevent Gantz and the center-left from gaining control. If they do, pretty much all protections for ultra-orthodox Jews will be stripped away.
One option that seems to be off the table completely is a third election in a year. If Netanyahu tries to do what he did last election, it could mean the end for Likud as one of the two major parties in the country. Nobody wants a third election.
Netanyahu may have the ball in his hand, but he doesn’t have a lot of wiggle room to make it work. This is the most challenging formation of a government the Jewish state has ever seen. If anyone can pull it off, it’s Bibi.
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