Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu plans to start forming a government as soon as possible, after President Reuven Rivlin received recommendations from a majority of the new Knesset for Netanyahu to be prime minister.
“We reached a historic achievement, and I promise to keep working for you and all the citizens of Israel,” Netanyahu said at a Likud victory event in Jerusalem on Tuesday night. “We will continue bringing prosperity to all and protecting everyone’s security… I will be everyone’s prime minister. I will work for everyone and protect everyone: those who voted for me, and those who didn’t.”
Hours before the event, the Central Elections Committee (CEC) released the absolute final, official results of last week’s election, after reviewing the vote count.
Likud and Blue and White were tied with 35 seats each, although Likud received nearly 15,000 more votes.
Practically, Likud will have 34 votes because, in an unprecedented move, Netanyahu gave a slot on his party’s list to MK Eli Ben-Dahan of the Union of Right-Wing Parties (URP) as part of an agreement between the parties.
United Torah Judaism (UTJ) gained a seat in the final count, reaching eight, at the expense of a seat for Likud.
Shas also has eight seats, followed by Hadash-Ta’al and Labor tied with six. URP and Yisrael Beytenu each received five seats, and Kulanu, Meretz and UAL-Balad each got four.
The CEC plans to present the final results to Rivlin on Wednesday, and Netanyahu plans to start coalition negotiations immediately.
The prime minister spoke with Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman and URP leader Rafi Peretz about their expectations, and will continue talks when Rivlin officially tasks Netanyahu with forming the government Wednesday night.
In an unusual move, Netanyahu’s spokesman sent out a statement by Peretz, in which the URP leader said: “I expressed trust in the prime minister, and I told him that I was happy to go to the president and tip the scales in his favor to form the government. I have no doubt that we will stand together. We will be a strong home for religious Zionism.”
Peretz said his faction wants the Education and Justice ministries. The Jerusalem Post also learned that Peretz is also seeking the Diaspora Affairs portfolio.
The New Right will remain out of the 21st Knesset, after no major problems were found in dozens of ballot boxes reviewed a second time at the request of party leader Naftali Bennett.
Bennett conceded the vote, saying: “I did the best I could for the people of Israel, my beloved nation. This time, it was not enough… I, and only I, am responsible for the outcome.
“We did find irregularities in ballot boxes... but they in of themselves are not enough to cancel the results of the whole election. Our lawyers will review the findings in the next two weeks – but at this point, we are moving on,” he said.
Bennett thanked co-party leader Ayelet Shaked, “the best justice minister in Israel’s history,” for her partnership.
Hundreds of New Right volunteers spent days poring through ballot protocols to try to find flaws that would help the party get into the Knesset. New Right was 1,400 votes short of passing the 3.25% electoral threshold.
“No significant flaws were found,” the CEC stated on Tuesday. “In counting the votes from dozens of ballot boxes, it was found that the New Right was given three extra votes.”
Netanyahu indicated his intention to appoint Yariv Levin of Likud as justice minister in his speech at the victory event. While he did not say so directly, he referred to comments by Channel 12 analysts Guy Peleg and Amnon Abramovich Friday night that former prime minister Ehud Olmert appointed a justice minister who was highly critical of judicial activism – Daniel Friedmann – and ended up in prison. Levin is a sharp critic of the judiciary.
“These commentators are threatening us. Is that what they call democracy and rule of law?” Netanyahu said. “I’m not afraid of threats – and I’m not deterred by the media.”
The prime minister thanked the public for “giving them a lesson in democracy in the voting booth.”
The first fault line of the new coalition is expected to be the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) conscription bill. A day after Liberman warned that if the current bill is changed, he would bring about new elections, UTJ released a statement on Tuesday saying that the party was also ready for new elections if yeshiva students would be drafted.
“We will insist that anyone who is learning Torah and Torah is his trade will be allowed to continue studying without being bothered, and we will stand for this with determination,” the faction said.
UTJ told Netanyahu that he must not accept Liberman’s demands. Likud officials spoke to legal advisers about whether he would be allowed to form a coalition of 60 MKs if Liberman refused to join, and they received a positive response. They have also held talks with Blue and White MKs who could be potential future allies.
But there were initial talks between Liberman and UTJ officials on Tuesday, in an effort to start the process of reaching a compromise.
Rivlin concluded his consultations with the representatives of all the factions in the next Knesset on Tuesday. He said the time has come for the Knesset to complete the process of drafting a constitution for Israel.