image Photo: Kobi Gideon (GPO)

Herzog appoints Netanyahu to form government

Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu received an official mandate by President Isaac Herzog yesterday to form a new  coalition government.

By Erin Viner

While asking Netanyahu with building the next coalition, President Herzog noted that Israel’s longest-serving premier had received enough recommendations from like-minded parties to secure 64 of parliament’s 120 seats.

President Herzog also referenced ongoing legal proceedings against Netanyahu at the Jerusalem District Court. While stating that he does not “trivialize this at all,” he underscored that repeated Supreme Court decisions on the matter of pending indictments does not preclude a member of Knesset (MK) from being nominated for the role of forming a government. (President Herzog’s full public statement is included below).

The conservative, rightwing Likud leader is now on the path to one of the most stable governments in years, after being out of office only 18-months. He was replaced by a diverse but fragile alliance of centrist, liberal, nationalist and Arab politicians following last year’s 23 March 2021 national elections.

Netanyahu has 28 days to clinch a coalition, with a possible 14-day extension. But he looks likely to finalize the talks this week, having launched them semi-formally right after the 1 November polls.

“I intend to work to broaden the zone of consensus among us,” Netanyahu said in televised remarks at Herzog’s residence, adding that he would represent all Israelis “without exception.”

He asserted that there was already widespread agreement on Israel’s Jewish identity but that individual liberties should also be upheld – in an apparent allusion to the country’s 21% Arab minority, as well as non-religious, secular Jewish citizens. He also pledged to implement further free-market reforms to lower costs of living in the country.

Going on to reiterate his long-held conviction, he stated that the next Israeli government “must determinedly take action against Iran’s belligerence and, above all, foil its effort to arm itself with nuclear weaponry, which has direct designs against our existence.”

Having forged United States-mediated normalization pacts with United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco in the 2020 Abraham Accords, Netanyahu announced that said he will now work on “further peace deals, peace through strength, peace in exchange for peace, with additional Arab countries – and thus, to a large extent, end the Israeli-Arab conflict.”

Stressing that he “did not say the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” but in my opinion this is the preliminary stage that would also bring that outcome.”

US-sponsored talks on founding a Palestinian state alongside Israel stalled in 2014.

The incoming Netanyahu government looks to be the most right-wing in Israel’s history, encompassing the ultra-nationalist Religious Zionism party whose leaders oppose Palestinian statehood, aim to annex the West Bank and previously assumed an anti-LGBT stance.

Prospective Cabinet MKs include  ultra-nationalist Otzmah Yehudit Chairman MK Itamar Ben-Gvir, who was convicted in 2007 of racist incitement against Arabs and support for terrorism. While now claiming to have adopted more moderate views, he continues to call for harsh crackdowns against those he deems terrorists or traitors.

The presumed incumbent premier has dismissed what he has deemed to be “fear-mongering” and asserts the country will continue to be a “beacon” for the region.

Many mainstream parties say they have ruled out participation in a Netanyahu-led coalition due to his corruption trial, in which he has denied wrongdoing.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog’s full remarks:

“Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu MK, ladies and gentlemen, having received the official results of the elections to the Twenty-Fifth Knesset last Wednesday, I set about fulfilling the task assigned to me by Paragraph 7 of Basic Law: The Government and held consultations with representatives of the parliamentary groups elected to the Twenty-Fifth Knesset.

“With your permission, I wish to say a few words about the consultations themselves, in light of questions from members of the public: questions and observations that I welcome and thank them for, as well as for the concern and responsibility that they reflect.

“Since the establishment of the State of Israel, successive presidents have all held extensive and rigorous consultations with representatives of the parliamentary groups. Specifically, they questioned and pressed them on many diverse issues, raising important and challenging issues on the agenda for discussion. As we know, until the presidency of my predecessor, the Tenth President, Reuven Rivlin, these meetings were closed to the public and the media. President Rivlin opened them up to live broadcasts, wishing to enhance transparency and public confidence in the process, and I did the same.

“Nevertheless, the tradition of deliberation during the President’s meetings with the parliamentary groups, including raising challenging and fundamental questions, has neither stopped nor changed, and rightly so. I thank the representatives of all the parliamentary groups of the elected Knesset for our fascinating, open, and frank conversations, which underscored the beauty and power of Israeli democracy, which draws its power from the rich and diverse mosaic of voices among us as a society and as a country.

“Ladies and gentlemen, from the consultations I held, the following picture arises: 64 members of Knesset recommended Benjamin Netanyahu MK; 28 members of Knesset recommended Yair Lapid MK; and 28 members of Knesset chose not to recommend any member of Knesset for the role of forming a government. Therefore, in light of all considerations emanating from the law and the tradition practiced by my predecessors—in terms of the greatest support for a specific candidate among members of the Knesset, and in terms of the largest party in the Knesset, and of course in terms of the central consideration, of who is the member of Knesset who has the greatest chance of forming the next government—the result was clear, and the task of forming a government must be assigned to Benjamin Netanyahu MK.

“I am not oblivious, of course, to the fact that there are ongoing legal proceedings against Mr. Netanyahu MK at the Jerusalem District Court, and I do not trivialize this at all. Nevertheless, it is important to note that the Supreme Court has already expressed itself clearly on the matter of pending indictments against a member of Knesset nominated for the role of forming a government, in a number of rulings, including with an expanded panel of eleven justices, when the task of forming a government was assigned to Mr. Netanyahu MK by my predecessor, President Reuven Rivlin.

“In light of all this, having considered the facts in accordance with the law, and after you gave your consent to this, as required by law, I have decided to assign to you, Benjamin Netanyahu MK, the task of forming a government.

“Ladies and gentlemen, the weighty responsibility that rests on the shoulders of the Government of Israel, and especially on the person who heads it, is among the greatest and most complicated in the world. Israel’s citizens require a stable and functioning government. A government that serves all citizens of Israel, both those who supported and voted for it and those who opposed its establishment; a government that works on behalf of and for the sake of all shades of the Israeli mosaic, from all communities, sectors, faiths, religions, lifestyles, beliefs, and values, and that treats them all with sensitivity and responsibility. The State of Israel requires a government that even if its composition does not reflect all worldviews and sections of the legislature, nevertheless knows to lead a process of connection and unification—between all parts of our people—and to conduct a responsible, cautious, open, frank, and attentive dialogue with the other branches of government.

“It is important that we remember: we, as a people, have no room for critical mistakes. Every government must behave with immense caution on matters of fateful importance for our existence, for the defense of our security, and for the preservation of our most fundamental contours as a Jewish and democratic state.

“Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu MK, as an experienced public servant, who has served in a plethora of senior roles in our country, including several terms as Prime Minister of Israel—you know well which most urgent issues and challenges are on the agenda, including threats both internal and external, alongside important opportunities. 

“Therefore, the foremost task assigned to you, as he who must now form the government-designate and head it, is to lead a government and a coalition that will be conscious of the immense responsibility assigned to them, and to the fact that elections in Israel are not a zero-sum game.

“I hereby grant you the writ of appointment, and I wish you great success in your mission. Your success is the success of the entire people. Thank you.”