Netanyahu Fails In Effort To Form New Israeli Government

After a close election, Benjamin Netanyahu has given up on his effort to form a government.

In a move that likely means the end of his time as Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu is ending his attempt to form a new government after more than a month of attempting to do so:

JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave up on his month-long effort to negotiate a governing majority after September’s dead-heat national election, opening the way for his chief rival to try his hand at cobbling together a coalition to run the country.

If Israel’s president gives former army chief of staff Benny Gantz permission to proceed, he would be the first politician other than Netanyahu given the mandate to form a government in more than a decade, although his own path to power is far from certain. Israel’s complex — and gridlocked — political system all but ensures that the final outcome is not likely to be clear for weeks, and that a third election in less than a year may be required. 

“This is new: This broadens the political imagination to include the possibility that someone not named Netanyahu could be the prime minister of the state of Israel,” said Mordechai Kreminitzer, senior fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute. “But I think Gantz will also find it extremely difficult to shape a coalition.” 

Netanyahu’s move came after power-sharing talks broke down almost immediately between his Likud party and Gantz’s Blue and White party, the two biggest factions in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament. The parties emerged from September elections with a nearly identical number of seats, and neither close to a controlling majority. 

The prime minister released a video announcing an end to his efforts, two days before the deadline and on his 70th birthday, decrying Gantz’s steady refusal to soften his resistance. 

Gantz’s party has one more seat than Likud, but Netanyahu emerged with one more Knesset recommendation to form a government. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin awarded the prime minister the first official mandate, giving him 28 days to assemble a majority. 

But despite pleas from Rivlin that the two sides find a way to form a unity government, neither party showed a willingness to budge on key demands, and Netanyahu told Rivlin he was giving up with just days left on his mandate.

Negotiators for the two parties met for several sessions without progress. Gantz spurned numerous invitations from Netanyahu for the two leaders to meet one-on-one, insisting through party statements that the prime minister is less interested in compromise than ensuring he serves first in any power-sharing rotation. Netanyahu is facing probable indictment on corruption charges and might see a unity government as an “immunity” government, as Gantz put it disparagingly. 

“Regrettably, Likud is sticking to its precondition of Netanyahu first,” Blue and White said in a statement after the negotiating session, before announcing it was bowing out of talks altogether. There have been no reported discussions in the two weeks since. 

More from Haaretz:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Monday that he cannot establishment a new Israeli government and that he is returning the mandate to form a coalition to President Reuven Rivlin, paving the way for the first time in over a decade for a different candidate other than himself to try to create a government. 

The premier made the announcement two days before his final deadline to present a coalition. Rivlin stated in response that he intends to tap the prime minister’s rival and Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz. He is expected to formally announce his decision within 72 hours, by Thursday evening.

Gantz, a former Israeli army chief of staff, will have 28 days to try to form a coalition. If the Gantz-led coalition talks also fail, any lawmaker backed by a majority of at least 61 Knesset members would be the next one to have a go at forming a coalition.

Should no other lawmaker be tapped by Knesset members within 21 days or be able to form a government, Israel will find itself heading for a third election within a year.

Netanyahu broke the news on social media. In a video published on his official Facebook page, the prime minister said: “Ever since receiving the mandate [to form a government] I have worked relentlessly … to establish a broad national unity government. This is what the people wants.”

However, he argued that his efforts to “bring Gantz to the negotiation table … and prevent another election” have failed, saying the Kahol Lavan leader “refused time after time.”

Responding to Netanyahu’s announcement, Gantz wrote on Twitter: “It’s Kahol Lavan time.”

Kahol Lavan co-leader Yair Lapid said that “Bibi failed once more. It’s a serial thing.” In an official statement, his party said: “The time for spins is over, now is the time for actions. Kahol Lavan is determined to form a liberal national unity government headed by Benny Gantz, for which the people voted last month.”

This isn’t the first time that Netanyahu has failed to form a government this year. After the first set of elections this year, which took place in April and appeared to enure to the benefit of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud Party, Netanyahu was given the chance to form a government. In that case, President Rivlin chose Netanyahu because his Likud coalition had come closet to the 62 seats needed for a Knesset majority. That effort ended in failure in May when it became apparent that Netanyahu would be unable to form a working majority in the Knesset thanks largely to the refusal of his former ally-turned-rival Avigdor Lieberman, who heads a small coalition of parties devoted to creating a more secular issue, to join a unity government that included ultra-orthodox parties.

That led to the second round of elections last month in which Netanyahu and his chief rival Blue and White Party leader Benny Gantz ended up essentially tied in the number of seats their respective parties control in the Knesset. In both cases, though, that number was only about 50% of the way toward the 62 seats they’d need to command a majority, meaning that either party will have to form a coalition if they’re going to form a government. Toward that end, there has been considerable pressure on both parties to form a national unity government in which the position of Prime Minister would rotate between the two parties over the four years the new Knesset would be serving,

While both parties have essentially endorsed that idea, the hangup appears to be on the question of Netanyahu’s fate. Netanyahu is apparently still insisting that Likud hold the Priemership first, with Gantz serving as Foreign Minister under Netanyahu. Gantz, on the other hand, is insisting that his party must hold the Prime Minister’s position first and that the Likud candidate for Minister must be someone other than Netanyahu given the fact that Bibi is facing criminal charges that could move forward as early next month. Unless that dispute is resolved somehow, the idea of a Likud/Blue and White unity government would appear to be off the table.

It now looks as though Israeli President Reuven Rivlin will look to Benny Gantz to try to form a government. Like Netanyahu, he will have 28 days to do so. If he fails as well, then Rivlin has the option of trying to find another party able to form a majority, but that appears unlikely. At that point, the only option would be a third General Election, most likely before the end of 2019. Given the divisions in Israeli politics, though, it’s hard to see how the results of a third election will make the situation any clear. This means that the idea of a Likud/Blue and White unity government may be the best that can be done. The only question will be if Netanyahu, who has been a political fixture in Israel for a long time, will be part of it or not.

FILED UNDER: Israel, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Kathy says:

    I don’t know much about Israeli politics, but it strikes me Netanyahu is like a walking advertisement for term limits.

    Is there a limit on how many elections can take place before a government finally forms? It strikes me that a third election will only deliver more of the same.

  2. @Kathy:

    As long as he is the head of Likud, he is eligible to be PM.

    And, no, there is no limit on the number of elections that can take place that I am aware of. At the same time, a third election with a similar result would likely result in a compromise on the unity government issue.

  3. Kathy says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    And, no, there is no limit on the number of elections that can take place that I am aware of.

    So in theory Bibi could stay on as “caretaker” for years, with elections every four months 😛

    At the same time, a third election with a similar result would likely result in a compromise on the unity government issue.

    You’d think they’d finally have to compromise, and I suspect it would depend on the personalities involved.

    On the other hand, a lot could be resolved if Bibi just walked away (is there such a thing as a pardon in Israel?). But when I think of that, I hear Penny asking “Yeah. but what are the odds of that happening?”

  4. @Kathy:

    Bibi may have no choice if he is officially charged in the criminal investigation next month as expected.

  5. Jax says:

    (Looks around) (whispering) Who is she talking to? Does she think Bibi is here?

    10
  6. CSK says:

    @Ms. Cris Ericson:
    I’ve been patient, but…what the hell are you talking about?

  7. @Ms. Cris Ericson:

    Please be aware that your post is wildly off-topic. I’d remind you to take note of our comment policy and proceed accordingly.

  8. Michael Reynolds says:

    Do you think Cris Cricson is this person? The Harold Stassen of Vermont?

  9. Hal_10000 says:

    Glad to see Netanyahu’s naked pander of annexing the West Bank didn’t pay off. Let’s hope a more moderate government comes to the fore.

  10. MarkedMan says:

    Now she is posting about how the Jews are out to get her? Just what does someone have to do to get banned around here?

  11. Scott says:

    @Michael Reynolds: If you click on the link associated with her name: http://www.politics2020.org, she looks like your person.

  12. Jax says:

    @MarkedMan: All in favor of banning Cris?

    (Nods solemnly) Aye.

  13. Scott says:

    @Jax: I don’t know. I’m still being amused. But I guess that will wane soon.

  14. Jax says:

    @Scott: I suspect, based on her comments on other threads, that she’s been banned from so many places she’s running out of places to smear turds on the walls. I will give some credit to our other trolls, they show up at expected times, for the usual subjects….this one has gone full whackadoodle on the devil’s lettuce, she’s frantically cutting, pasting and posting with no recollection of which site she’s on, she’s just going to wherever hasn’t banned her yet. She probably doesn’t get much traffic on her own website.

    Not that I mind a little of the devil’s lettuce, mind you…..I just try to stay off the internet when I do so. 😉

  15. Scott O says:

    I think she wants to be banned so she can complain about being banned. Thankfully, elsewhere.

  16. Slugger says:

    Back on topic: I view this getting rid of Bibi as a refiyah, a blessed healing.

  17. mattbernius says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Do you think Cris Cricson is this person? The Harold Stassen of Vermont?

    As far as I can tell, that is her. But she isn’t Harold Stassen… He actually won some elections. She’s more the Grandpa Al Lewis of Vermont.

  18. mattbernius says:

    @Hal_10000:
    100% about breathing a sigh of relief after all of Bibi’s annexation pandering. Glad to see that wasn’t enough to win.

  19. MarkedMan says:

    I’m not going to make fun of this particular poster. She seriously strikes me as needing more sympathy than approbation.

  20. Neil Hudelson says:

    OOOooohh ok it makes a lot more sense now. A decade and a half ago, some organization didn’t let a gadfly participate in a local debate, so Jews control the media. And Bibi is Jewish, so Bibi of course forced the decision to exclude a gadfly from a local debate. And now, Bibi is losing, and the only way he can win is to apologize for his war against gadflys.

    You see, it’s actually quite on topic.

    —–

    Anyway, I’m not sure how anyone can read this

    While both parties have essentially endorsed that idea, the hangup appears to be on the question of Netanyahu’s fate. Netanyahu is apparently still insisting that Likud hold the Priemership first, with Gantz serving as Foreign Minister under Netanyahu.

    As not a blatant attempt to avoid prosecution. “Ok, you form the unity government, but you give me the most power, yes? We are all agreed on this great plan?”

    I can see why Trump likes this guy.

  21. Gustopher says:

    @Ms. Cris Ericson:

    MarkedMan says: “seriously strikes me as needing more sympathy”

    The problem is, that in the state of Vermont where I live, a Jewish woman told me that the Democrats only want Jews to win Election.

    That is a problem with giving you sympathy, yes.

  22. Dave Schuler says:

    @Kathy:

    One of the planks of Kahol Lavan’s platform is PM term limits. If Mr. Lantz is successful in forming a new government, we’ll see if they act on it.

  23. mattbernius says:

    @Ms. Cris Ericson:

    wrote a story about me calling me “anti-semitic” because I had complained that the Jews were excluding me from political candidate debates.

    I am surprised that a person who complains about “the Jews” is surprised when they are called anti-Semitic.

    Welcome again to OTB, I expect your tenure here, while short, is only going to get better after this particular revelation.

  24. de stijl says:

    Why would the Party leader that lost the election be the first one asked to form a government and not Gantz?

    (Then again, Trump lost the popular vote and is our President, so I have no right to question the vagaries of Israeli election laws.)

  25. @de stijl:

    Netanyahu didn’t lose the election, the result was basically a tie in terms of the number of seats that Likud and Blue & White won on own and the difference in the popular vote was statistically insignificant,

    In such situations the custom in most Parliamentary systems seems to be to allow the leader of the governing party the first crack at forming a government

    Finally, the decision of who gets first crack is up to the Israeli President, and he clearly hoped that giving the mandate to Netanyahu first would lead to a government more easily since the Likud Party has the most potential allies in the Knesset.

  26. de stijl says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    It wasn’t a tie, though. It was damned close. +1 isn’t a tie.

    Netanyahu didn’t win. He lost. Yes, by a smidge; still lost.

    What is the role of a President, exactly, in a parliamentary system? I’ll Google it.

  27. de stijl says:

    Ah! Get it now!

    He was the incumbent. If no clear, outright winner, then the incumbent gets first shot at it.

  28. Kylopod says:

    @de stijl: I’d just add that Israel doesn’t just have a parliamentary system, but also proportional representation with a low minimum threshold (3%, but used to be 1%). The result is that it’s got a multitude of parties in the Knesset, making it even harder for any one to gain a majority. So the initial seat count is less important than the ability to gather a coalition of the smaller parties, which is why the post-vote negotiating phase is given so much attention. Israel has run into these difficulties before. It’s why they briefly experimented with direct election of PM in the ‘90s—in fact, Bibi was first elected through this method. And negotiation with the religious parties, which is what led to the current impasse, has been an issue since the country’s founding. (If Bibi goes down, we have Lieberman to thank for it. A far-right loon in most ways, he got fed up with the demands of the Haredim, and I think he also loathes Bibi.)

  29. Tyrell says:

    This article did not mention Benny Gantz much, but he seems to be a strong leader. It remains to be seen how he handles the Palestinian situation. I also wonder if he will have some sort of talks with Iran.

  30. mattbernius says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Finally, the decision of who gets first crack is up to the Israeli President, and he clearly hoped that giving the mandate to Netanyahu first would lead to a government more easily since the Likud Party has the most potential allies in the Knesset.

    I wish I could find the article now, but there was some analysis that Netanyahu was allowed to go first because it was assumed to be a poison pill and that he *wouldn’t* be successful. That analysis suggested that who ever went first was most likely to fail.