Deadline looms for Netanyahu to build new government in Israel

One week before the deadline expires for Benjamin Netanyahu to either form a new government or return the mandate to President Rivlin, the prime minister appears to be at a dead end.

Deadline looms for Netanyahu to build new government in Israel Photo

One week before the deadline expires for Benjamin Netanyahu to either form a new government or return the mandate to President Rivlin, the prime minister appears to be at a dead end. While seven days is time enough for a last-minute breakthrough, Netanyahu’s path to forming a government appears to be obstructed by the very bloc he put together before the elections.

Prior to the March vote, Netanyahu worked to strengthen the position of the Religious Zionist Party, headed by Bezalel Smotrich. Netanyahu helped the party push through the electoral threshold  on the understanding that Smotrich  would help him form a right-wing government.

But Smotrich is unwilling to hear of any coalition that would lean on the support of the Islamist movement affiliated United Arab List and its leader, Mansour Abbas. The UAL, which squeezed past the post to gain four seats, has become the smallest party to date to become kingmaker – and is now a decisive factor in whether a coalition can arise or whether the country will go to fifth elections.

On Saturday evening, Smotrich, outraged by Netanyahu’s call for all sides to cool tensions after violent events in Jerusalem, went as far as to say that it might be time to replace the prime minister, triggering return fire from Netanyahu.

Should he form a government with center and left-wing parties, he would, at the tender age of 49, become prime minister of Israel. But he would be a prime minister of compromise in a government that would not be right- wing. It would be a government ‘of change’ – that change being the expulsion of Netanyahu from the political scene.

Yamina’s name reflects its ideology – it literally means “rightward”. And yet it is now considering entering into a government of compromise. Herein lies the Bennett riddle. Will he give up his right-wing values and realize a one-time opportunity to become prime minister?

If he does enter into a rotation agreement with Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, Bennett will go down in history as the man who ended Netanyahu’s long reign in power. There are many political forces in Israel who want to see this happen, as well as several media organizations in Israel.

Yet Bennett’s voters cast their ballot for a right-wing government. Prior to the elections, Bennett appeared on Channel 20 and signed a document before viewers vowing not to sit in a Lapid government.  

He is now facing pushback from people in his own party. Bennett is facing the dilemma of his life. He could make history if he becomes prime minister, but if, due to its internal tensions and delicate nature, the compromise government falls soon after being born, it could end Bennett’s political career.

On the other hand, should Bennett enter the fifth round of elections since 2019 as the incumbent prime minister, this might strengthen his chances of gaining broader support for Yamina.

The parties examining the possibility of forming a government without Netanyahu are marketing the potential coalition as a unity government. But this government would be boycotting Netanyahu, so the badge of ‘unity’ appears somewhat out of place.

Rather, it would be made up of an assortment of elements, many of which have nothing in common. Nevertheless, negotiations are firmly under way over who would get what role in such a government.

All of the potential party members of the anti-Netanyahu coalition have appointed representatives to take part. Their central objective is to reach the goal of being able to tell President Rivlin that they are capable of forming a government if, as seems likely, Netanyahu returns the mandate to form a government he received from the president. If they obtain this objective, they will receive a shot at forming the next government.

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