Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu received more endorsements to form the next government than Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid on Monday, making it likely that he will receive the first mandate from President Reuven Rivlin on Tuesday.
In Rivlin’s consultations with the 13 factions in the new Knesset that will be sworn in on Tuesday, 52 MKs from four factions recommended Netanyahu, while 45 from five factions recommended Lapid. Yamina recommended its leader, Naftali Bennett; New Hope and the two Arab factions didn’t recommend anyone.
The decision by Yamina and New Hope not to recommend Lapid was aimed at obtaining the mandate from Rivlin for Bennett after Netanyahu fails to form a government during the 28 days he would receive from Rivlin.
The refusal of the Religious Zionist Party to join a coalition backed by Ra’am (United Arab List) will make it very difficult for Netanyahu to build a coalition.
Meanwhile, Yamina and Yesh Atid have started negotiating a unity government deal in which Bennett would serve as prime minister the first two years and Lapid the final two and a half years. Yamina’s negotiating team is led by strategists Tal Gan-Zvi and Shalom Shlomo, and Yesh Atid’s by veteran Lapid adviser Hillel Kubrinsky.
The two sides did not reach an agreement on how to share power and divide portfolios in initial talks, which prevented an agreement from being reached in time for Monday’s consultations with Rivlin.
“We need a government of national agreement,” Lapid said in a speech on social media on Monday night. “I offered my friend Naftali Bennett the opportunity to form a government with me that will include the spectrum of Israeli politics – parties from the Right, Center and Left – and that will reflect the fact that we live here together.”
LAPID CALLED on MKs to resist pressure from Netanyahu to help him form a government. He noted that Netanyahu’s trial resumed Monday and that the prime minister had attacked the legal establishment.
“Anyone who saw Netanyahu’s reckless performance today understands he can’t carry on in his job,” Lapid said. “He’s become dangerous to himself, to Israel and to the rule of law. We have an economy that needs taking care of, we have a society that is hurt and aching. People just want politics out of their lives. They want a government that will let them live their lives in peace.”
New Hope’s representatives, MKs Yoaz Hendel and Yifat Shasha-Biton and MK-elect Ze’ev Elkin asked Rivlin for more time to try to reach an agreement. When they asked the president to invite Lapid and Bennett to the President’s Residence, he said he would not interfere in that manner.
Joint List MK Ahmad Tibi said on Monday that his party would have recommended that Lapid be tasked with forming the next government had New Hope recommended him as well.
"We waited today to see the number of recommendations for Yair Lapid," Tibi said. "Unfortunately, when we got here the picture became clearer and although Lapid is the most worthy candidate out of the three, he does not seem to have the required number of recommendations."
Had the two MKs of Tibi's Ta'al Party joined New Hope in endorsing Lapid, he would have received 53 endorsements, one more than Netanyahu.
The representatives of Yamina, MK Ayelet Shaked and Matan Kahana, recommended that Bennett receive the mandate. When Rivlin asked who their second choice was, they refused to answer but expressed interest in receiving the next mandate to form a government from Rivlin if the first candidate does not succeed.
“Naftali Bennett has the best chance of forming a government,” Shaked said.
When Yesh Atid’s representatives came and argued that Lapid should receive the mandate, Rivlin pointed out that Netanyahu received nearly twice as many votes.
“I don’t see at the moment how Lapid could form a government,” Rivlin told them.
Rivlin warned representatives of Blue and White that there could end up being a fifth election.
BLUE AND WHITE'S backing for Lapid came more than a year after the party split up in a fight between its leaders, Lapid and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz. Gantz held back with his endorsement until now and considered backing Yamina head Naftali Bennett instead in an effort to prevent Netanyahu from forming the next government.
“We will continue to do all we can to ensure that an honest government will be formed and that the mandate will not go to Netanyahu, who is busy with his trial,” Gantz said. “I call on the entire change bloc to recommend MK Lapid to prevent Netanyahu from receiving the mandate.”
Lapid thanked Gantz, saying his party’s support was “part of the healing and the change that the State of Israel needs so much.”
Likud’s representatives, Amir Ohana, Tzachi Hanegbi and Ophir Akunis, formally recommended that Netanyahu form the government and argued with Rivlin for more than half an hour.
“The main consideration that will guide me is entrusting the task to a Knesset member who has the best chance of forming a government that will have the confidence of the new Knesset,” Rivlin said. “This is how all previous Israeli presidents have acted, this is how I acted in previous elections and this is how I will act now.”
Ohana objected and said that the March 23 election was a clear victory for Netanyahu and Likud. He pointed out that the only time in recent memory that a party leader was chosen to form a government who did not receive the most votes was when Kadima beat Likud by only one seat in 2009 and Netanyahu, rather than Kadima head Tzipi Livni, was asked to form a government by then-president Shimon Peres.
“The Likud is by far the largest faction and Prime Minister Netanyahu will have the most recommendations, so there is no doubt he will have the best chance to build a government,” Ohana told reporters after meeting Rivlin.
Please add Idan Zonshine contributed to this report.