Israel President Reuven Rivlin on Tuesday reluctantly handed the mandate to form the next government to incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, calling the decision difficult from a moral standpoint.
“This is not an easy decision on a moral and ethical basis,” said a troubled Rivlin. ‘I fear for my country. But I am doing what is required of me as president of the State of Israel.”
Rivlin, like many Israelis, does not believe a person under criminal indictment should be prime minister, but acknowledged that there is no law against it.
Last month’s national election once again produced an indecisive result, but the anti-Netanyahu bloc had held out high hopes of finally unseating Bibi. While many of the other factions do to see eye-to-eye on many issues, they were firmly united in their opposition to another term of Netanyahu in office.
But in the end, Rivlin said he felt “obligated” to tap Netanyahu for prime minister after he received more nominations a day earlier when the heads of the parties making up the 24th Knesset visited the President’s Residence.
No candidate received a majority of nominations, leaving Rivlin to exclaim, “I can’t see a way to form a coalition.” Even so, someone must receive the mandate, and at this point, Netanyahu clearly has the best chance of forming a stable coalition.
If he fails, however, Rivlin said he likely won’t give a second candidate a chance. Rather, the president has the option to send the mandate back to the Knesset itself and let the lawmakers there fight it out.
“After four election campaigns, democracy has exhausted itself,” said the weary Israeli president.
Netanyahu was backed by the Likud, the two ultra-Orthodox parties Shas and United Torah Judaism, and the far-right Religious Zionism giving him a total of 52 nominations.
Opposition leader Yair Lapid was backed by his own Yesh Atid party, as well as “Blue and White,” Labor, Yisrael Beiteinu and Meretz giving him a total of 45 nominations.
“Kingmaker” Naftali Bennett gave his Yamina party’s 7 nominations to himself.
The big surprise came when New Hope (6) and the Joint Arab List (6) both declined to endorse a candidate for prime minister, despite both being dedicated to ousting Netanyahu.
The right-wing New Hope said that it supports an alternative government headed by Lapid and Bennett, but was unhappy that they had failed to reach a final agreement before meeting with the president.
The Joint Arab List said that while it wants to see Lapid succeed Netanyahu, the former’s efforts to join forces with a religious Zionist like Bennett means the Arab factions see no place for them in his government.
The Islamist party Ra’am likewise nominated no candidate for prime minister, but by the time the party was called in to offer its four votes, it was too later. They wouldn’t have been enough to put Lapid over Netanyahu.
The bickering, indecision and infighting among the “change bloc” was somewhat expected, and has now given Netanyahu a path to victory, if he can somehow pull off another political miracle and convince at least 61 lawmakers to sit in his coalition.