Netanyahu secures most nominations for premiership after New Hope abstains

The New Hope, Joint List and Ra’am parties on Monday refrained from endorsing any candidate for prime minister, ensuring that Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu would have the most recommendations to form a government.

However, Netanyahu still lacked a clear path to assembling a coalition, needing 61 seats for a majority. His rivals, too, did not appear to have many options for clinching a government.

The right-wing New Hope, led by former Likud minister Gideon Sa’ar, campaigned on replacing Netanyahu. But the party also ruled out joining a government headed by Yesh Atid chief Yair Lapid, limiting its options for whom to recommend.

Meeting President Reuven Rivlin, who was consulting with parties Monday before deciding who to task with forming a government, New Hope representatives declined to endorse anyone.

Explaining the move, MK Yifat Shasha-Biton said the party backs a rotational premiership between Lapid and Yamina leader Naftali Bennett, but their inability to reach an agreement on the matter prompted her party to abstain.

“Any recommendation for one of them won’t move us closer to a reality in which it will be possible to form a government,” she said.

Left to right: Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid (Miriam Alster/Flash90); Yamina party chief Naftali Bennett; and New Hope party head Gideon Sa’ar (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Shasha-Biton noted Rivlin’s past proposal for Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz to form a unity government in which they rotate the premiership and their parties have equal responsibilities. She urged Rivlin to invite both Lapid and Bennett to work out such an agreement, after which New Hope would back one of them.

But Rivlin declined the proposal, saying such a move would be “political intervention.” He pointed out that neither Yesh Atid nor Yamina had made such a request.

Following New Hope, representatives of the Joint List party met with Rivlin and did not recommend anyone.

Joint List leader Ayman Odeh reiterated the party’s opposition to Netanyahu, not only because of his corruption trial, but primarily because of Israel’s control over the Palestinians, the prime minister’s economic policies, and his alleged attempts to undermine the country’s democracy.

Odeh said he respects Lapid, noting the Yesh Atid leader’s statement during the election campaign that the Joint List could join a coalition. But he said Lapid’s emerging partnerships with right-wing parties, namely Yamina, meant the Joint List could not endorse Yesh Atid.

He said his party was still willing to endorse Lapid, but only if he does not partner with right-wing parties. Lapid has no chance of forming a government without the right-wing Yamina, New Hope, and Yisrael Beytenu.

MK Ahmad Tibi said Lapid was a “worthy candidate” and that the Joint List hoped to be the “decisive vote” on which candidate would get first shot at forming a coalition.

“If every one of our votes had been decisive, we would have voted [for a candidate],” Tibi said.

President Reuven Rivlin (C) greets Joint List MKs Ayman Odeh (L) and Ahmad Tibi during consultations on who should form a new government, at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, April 5, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

The Islamist Ra’am party sat down with Rivlin after the Joint List and also declined to endorse anyone.

Before New Hope met with Rivlin, the left-wing Meretz party endorsed Lapid.

Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz expressed confidence Lapid could form a government of right-wing, centrist, and left-wing parties, but ruled out any partnerships with Likud or the far-right Religious Zionism.

With Meretz’s endorsement, Lapid had 45 recommendations, versus 52 for Netanyahu. Bennett had seven, with Yamina having recommended its own party leader.

As he kicked off the meetings in the morning, Rivlin lamented that “at the moment, I can’t see a way to form a coalition.”

President Reuven Rivlin meets with senior Likud lawmakers to hear their recommendation for who should be tasked with forming a government during consultations at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on April 5, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

He also said if his first choice to form a government fails, he may kick the mandate back to the Knesset to make a choice, rather than giving a second person a chance to do so first.

In stark comments, the president added that “after four election campaigns, democracy has exhausted itself.”

He also hinted at the possibility that Netanyahu’s corruption trial, taking place at the same time across town, could play a role in his decision on whom he would hand the mandate to.

The president met parties according to their factions’ size in the incoming Knesset, with the largest party — Likud — first and the smallest — Ra’am — last.

Following the discussions, on Wednesday Rivlin is expected to assign a lawmaker the mandate to form the next government, based on whom he assesses has the best chance of doing so.

The meetings were being held at Rivlin’s official residence in Jerusalem and were being streamed live on the president’s social media channels.

The outcome of Monday’s discussions is up in the air. Neither the pro-Netanyahu bloc of parties nor the anti-Netanyahu camp has a clear path to a majority following the March 23 vote, Israel’s fourth inconclusive election in two years.

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