Will President Herzog extend Netanyahu's mandate to become PM? - analysis

It is rare for a president to deny a request to extend a mandate for an MK who is trying to form a government.

 President Isaac Herzog meets with Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu to grant him the mandate to form a government, November 13, 2022 (photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)
President Isaac Herzog meets with Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu to grant him the mandate to form a government, November 13, 2022
(photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)

Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu’s mandate will run out on Sunday. The Likud is not exuding panic, however, and seems to assume President Isaac Herzog will give Netanyahu an additional two weeks.

Netanyahu has not even made the official request for an extension yet, but there is almost no chance of reaching a final agreement with all his coalition partners by Sunday.

The law says Herzog may grant an extension, but he is not required to do so. Might Netanyahu be in for a surprise?

The short answer is no. Precedent and the current state of the negotiations do not leave Herzog any reason to deny Netanyahu an extension. Herzog may choose at first not to grant the whole 14 days, but he will likely end up making the decision based on how close Netanyahu says he is to forming the government.

As these words are being written, Netanyahu has signed three full “job appendixes” – with Otzma Yehudit, Noam and the Religious Zionist Party – and has reached agreements with a fourth, United Torah Judaism. The Likud will likely announce an agreement similar to UTJ’s with Shas and then turn to Herzog for the extension.

 FROM LEFT, prospective coalition partners Yitzhak Goldknopf, Bezalel Smotrich, Yoav Kisch and Moshe Gafni in the Knesset plenum this week (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST) FROM LEFT, prospective coalition partners Yitzhak Goldknopf, Bezalel Smotrich, Yoav Kisch and Moshe Gafni in the Knesset plenum this week (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

The final coalition agreements will include the new government’s ideological guidelines and legislative goals. Netanyahu has yet to reach a full agreement with any of the parties.

Sa'ar and Michaeli oppose extending the mandate

Outgoing Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar and Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli appealed to Herzog not to extend Netanyahu’s mandate.

Sa’ar argued that the agreements had already been reached and that Netanyahu’s request was a “trick” for the purpose of “passing problematic personal laws according to his partners’ demands prior to forming the government.” This was “not why the law enabled the president to give an extension,” he said.

Michaeli made the same argument earlier with more flair.

She called the request “another sophisticated ploy” that was “not intended to allow fevered negotiations” to continue but to “give a green light to governmental corruption, damage the powers of the court and profoundly erode the checks and balances between the branches of government.”

Michaeli added two other arguments. First, enacting such “draconian” laws should not be done without Netanyahu “bearing prime-ministerial responsibility,” i.e., before he becomes prime minister; and second, the time frame does not allow for “substantive public and parliamentary debate.”

Sa’ar and Michaeli are correct in pointing out that the extra 14 days will be mostly dedicated to legislation, but the legislation itself is part of the process, as they are preconditions for the other parties to sign final agreements.

In Israel’s political system, the executive branch largely controls the legislature. Therefore, political deals regarding the government often include legislation as part of the give and take.

We do not have to look too far back to find a stark example – the Gantz-Netanyahu government of 2020. In order to form the rotational, “parity” government between Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Netanyahu in 2020, the sides added a significant chunk to the Basic Law: The Government, before the government was sworn in.

Israel’s history includes a number of examples of politicians who were unhappy with the president’s initial choice. Once the president gave the mandate, however, there has rarely ever been opposition to an extension per se.

In fact, only once in Israel’s history did a president deny an extension to an MK who wished it, and it, too, occurred following the 2020 election.

In March 2020, after the third election of the current cycle, Gantz received the first mandate from president Reuven Rivlin. Gantz and Netanyahu began to negotiate an emergency government due to the COVID-19 outbreak. After weeks of negotiations and with time running out, Rivlin at first completely denied Gantz’s request. He eventually relented but gave Gantz just 48 hours.

However, the case then was different. No government had been formed after two straight elections, and with COVID (literally) breathing down everyone’s necks, and after weeks of negotiations between the two, Rivlin wanted to get it over with.

This time, however, there is no COVID, and Netanyahu is well on his way to forming a government. These two reasons alone are likely to ensure that his mandate will be extended.