(photo credit: AP)
Although experts agree that Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu is easily the most likely candidate to form the next government, the current stalemate pinning down Netanyahu and fellow contender Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni points to an alarming possibility: What if neither candidate can get their proverbial ducks in a row and form a government?
As unlikely as this scenario seems, it is not out of the range of possibility - should both Kadima and Israel Beiteinu refuse to join Netanyahu's coalition. And with Kadima muttering Sunday about remaining in the opposition and Israel Beiteinu head Avigdor Lieberman placing demands on the government that haredi coalition members can not stomach, that scenario is a step closer than previously imagined.
The Livni Scenario - in which the leader of the largest party is incapable of forming any kind of a coalition - already occurred in 1984, when then-Labor chairman Shimon Peres ended up agreeing to a rotation government with Likud leader Yitzhak Shamir. In that case, president Chaim Herzog brokered the rotation arrangement - but there is no law on the books forcing recalcitrant candidates to agree to such an arrangement. Should Netanyahu and Livni chose to continue their he-calls, she-calls bickering even after President Peres tries to reach such an agreement, Peres cannot force them to comply.
The president can, in fact, assign the task of forming the government to any Knesset member who has notified him that he is "prepared to accept the task" - and, in fact, must due so within seven days of the official publication of the election results, which are due on Wednesday.
In any case, the consultations with Knesset faction representatives, which have been frequently discussed in recent days, have no legally binding status. There are, said Hebrew University political science Prof. Abraham Diskin, precedents in which presidents decided simply not to ask any factions for their recommendations. But even if all of the factions recommended the same candidate, Peres could theoretically designate another MK to form a government.
And if that candidate failed to create a coalition in the 28 days granted by law? Peres could extend the period by an additional two weeks. In 1977, said Diskin, Menachem Begin was confronted by such a situation. Then, Begin had only 21 days according to law, and spent a large portion of the time in the hospital after suffering a heart attack - but stubbornly held to the promise that despite unwilling would-be partners, he would manage to form a coalition without requesting a presidential extension. Begin did manage to do so - on the 21st day. Sticking to a firm schedule, argued Diskin, could help Netanyahu this time around by forcing would-be partners to reduce brinksmanship in the face of a hard deadline.
But if, as cynics might argue, neither of today's contenders have Begin's mettle or luck, and the extended deadline expires, the candidate must notify Peres that they have failed. Even if the candidate finds the truth too painful to admit and does not report back to the president, the result is the same - Peres has three days to either appoint another candidate to try to form a coalition, or to inform Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik that he sees no possibility of forming a government.
At that point, the Knesset can take over where Peres failed. Within 21 days of the president's report to the Knesset speaker, an alternate candidate may be selected by a majority of Knesset members signing off on the nomination of an MK to form a coalition - provided that the MK agrees in writing to take the task upon themselves.
If that too fails, then the Knesset will be disbanded - once again - and Israel will enjoy the dubious pleasure of a second mid-week vacation as the country goes once again to elections.