The decision is Rivlin’s – and Rivlin wants unity

"The people of Israel want a government that will be stable. A stable government cannot be a government without both of the two largest parties."

September 22, 2019 23:34
2 minute read.
Pres. Reuven Rivlin has PM Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Gantz shake hands

President Reuven Rivlin has Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz shake hands at memorial ceremony for former president Shimon Peres. (photo credit: ELAD QUEEN)

When the Joint List made its historic decision to recommend Blue and White leader Benny Gantz to be prime minister – the first candidate Arab parties have supported since Yitzhak Rabin in 1992 – it seemed like it was game over for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Yisrael Beytenu decided to recommend no one, because no one promised the exact coalition they wanted – Blue and White, Likud and Yisrael Beytenu – so it looked like Gantz would have 57 recommendations to Netanyahu’s 55, and therefore, President Reuven Rivlin would entrust Gantz with forming a government.

Balad, the most extreme of the Joint List’s parties – the one whose founder is a fugitive from the law in Qatar after he was suspected of telling Hezbollah where its missiles landed in the Second Lebanon War and whose former MKs took part in the Gaza flotilla and went to prison for smuggling cell phones to terrorists in prison – announced that it opposes recommending Gantz as prime minister “because of his right-wing political views, which are not much different from those of Likud, and because of his bloody and aggressive military history.”

But Balad’s de-recommendation doesn’t really matter. The law states that Rivlin seeks the advice of the Knesset’s factions, not the factions broken down by party, and Joint List leader Ayman Odeh told the president’s office that the recommendation is for all 13 MKs.

Even though only 54 MKs want Gantz to be prime minister, 57 officially recommend him.

The general assumption has been that Rivlin will task whoever has the most recommendations to be prime minister – meaning Gantz – because that is what every president has done. But we’re still in a situation in which no candidate has a majority.
The law grants Rivlin broad discretion when it comes to choosing a prime minister. It only says the president has to seek the factions’ advice.

Rivlin is going to use that opening to try to get a unity government. He said in his meeting with Likud representatives that he plans to invite Gantz and Netanyahu for a meeting.

The president opened his series of meetings by saying said he’ll do whatever it takes to prevent a third election and called for Blue and White and Likud to be in a coalition together.

“The people of Israel want a government that will be stable,” he told Blue and White representatives. “A stable government cannot be a government without both of the two largest parties.”

Rivlin also seemed be telling Blue and White to treat Netanyahu as innocent until proven guilty. He reminded its MKs that the prime minister has not been indicted, and when Likud MK Miri Regev said Blue and White refuses to be in a coalition with Netanyahu, Rivlin pointed out: “Only if he’s indicted.”

It looks like this will be his tack to try to soften Blue and White’s resolve on the party’s no-Netanyahu stance. They already seem to be more willing to reach out to ultra-Orthodox parties than their “secular unity government” campaign would have indicated.
And Netanyahu already said last week he wants to sit with Gantz – as long as he’s prime minister.

It seems that Rivlin knows what he wants to do, and as long as the recommendation count stays relatively close, we’ll be looking at him using the full power of the presidency to try to force a unity government – details to be determined.

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