Rivlin to encourage but not force unity government

Netanyahu and Herzog continue to rule out the formation of a national unity government.

Rivlin waves after visiting the Western Wall (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Rivlin waves after visiting the Western Wall
President Reuven Rivlin will try to facilitate the formation of a national unity government led by the Likud and the Zionist Union after Tuesday’s election but will not force it, sources close to Rivlin said Saturday night.
The sources on Saturday confirmed a report in Friday’s Makor Rishon newspaper that in closed conversations, Rivlin volunteered to mediate between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog at the President’s Residence to help them form a coalition together. In those conversations, he said that the results predicted by the polls would not indicate a clear victory, making a unity government necessary.
Rivlin said in the closed conversations that the pressure Israel will be under from the international community would require a national unity government to overcome.
Netanyahu and Herzog continued to rule out the formation of a national unity government over the weekend.
But a mini-debate between them facilitated by Channel 2 on its Meet the Press program appeared to indicate that differences between them on a key issue were not wide.
When Netanyahu asked Herzog why he condemned the government’s building projects in Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem, Herzog said he would not divide Israel’s capital.
“It was Netanyahu who unnecessarily put Jerusalem on the international agenda,” Herzog said. “I will keep Jerusalem united under Israeli sovereignty.”
Herzog told the prime minister that he believes the Palestinian Authority has declined to negotiate with him and turned instead to the international community because Netanyahu is a weak leader.
“The international community knows you are weak and does not accept your positions,” Herzog told Netanyahu.
Herzog tried in vain to ask Netanyahu whether he would support the principle that the largest faction will form the next government. Netanyahu has come out in favor of the idea but would only apply it ahead of the next election.
Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett announced Saturday night that his faction would recommend to Rivlin that Netanyahu form the next government. He even said the Likud and Bayit Yehudi would recommend Netanyahu together, calling such a step a “technical bloc.”
But Likud officials and legal experts say there is no such thing as a technical bloc and forming one would not affect Rivlin’s decision on who would form the next government.
A Bayit Yehudi spokeswoman said Bennett was not offering to unite the Likud and Bayit Yehudi factions after the election, a step that could have impacted Rivlin’s decision.
When the Likud united with Yisrael Beytenu ahead of the previous election, it guaranteed that Likud Beytenu would be the largest faction in the Knesset. Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman attacked the prime minister on Army Radio Friday, saying that with Netanyahu, you never know whether you will get a rightwing leader or the man who withdrew from Hebron and voted for the Gaza Strip disengagement.
Liberman said that his party by contrast would not veer from its ideology, even if it meant paying a political price.
Meanwhile, in a blow to the Zionist Union, Yariv Ben- Eliezer, the grandson of the first prime minister David Ben-Gurion, endorsed Yesh Atid Saturday. Ben-Eliezer said he backs the party because it fights against religious coercion, against the exclusion of women and against homophobia.
“I believe that my grandfather would be proud of my decision and my reasoning,” he said. “I checked all the lists and found that there is only one without a single person who is ethically or morally tainted.”