Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed in a frantic attempt on Sunday morning to quickly garner the 61 signatures of Knesset members needed to compel President Reuven Rivlin to give him a second chance (third, if you count this year’s earlier election in April) to form the next government.
Both Netanyahu and his rival, “Blue and White” party chief Benny Gantz, failed in their first attempts to form a government following September’s election.
The current situation is that if any Knesset member, not just party leaders, can gain the backing of at least 61 out of 120 fellow MKs, then Rivlin will give him or her a shot at becoming prime minister by cobbling together a majority coalition.
If no one manages to do so by the middle of December, the Knesset will by law dissolve itself, and Israel will face a third national election in less than a year.
Netanyahu thought he’d be able to get to Rivlin first after “kingmaker” Avigdor Liberman, head of the Yisrael Beiteinu party, said he and his faction would back both the prime minister and Gantz in this effort, anything just to avoid a third election.
But Netanyahu couldn’t get the necessary number of signatures by the 9am deadline on Sunday after a number of right-wing allies, and even members of his own Likud party, declined to sign.
Most noted that they didn’t see how Netanyahu would succeed in forming a government now when he had already failed twice this year, and is maintaining the red lines that resulted in those failures.
But MK Yoav Kisch (Likud) in an interview on Army Radio asked the question that’s starting to bother a growing number of Israelis: Does Netanyahu view his own personal political survival as more important than keeping the Right in power?
“If we are dragged into a third election, we will have to hold a primary for the Likud leadership,” Kisch said. “The question will be who is able to lead the Right to power, and the team is ultimately more important than the star.”
Current polls show that a Likud with Netanyahu at the helm would win more seats in a third election, but that the overall breakdown of the next Knesset would be the same as the current, meaning he’d have no easier a time forming a government.
A Likud with someone else in charge, for instant challenger Gideon Sa’ar, would win fewer seats, but the right-wing as a whole would win more, and Sa’ar would have an easier time forming a majority coalition, especially given that he is less beholden to the ultra-Orthodox parties.