image Photo: Haim Zach (GPO)

Lapid tasked with government formation

Yair Lapid has been nominated to form Israel’s next government, after the deadline for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expired at midnight yesterday.

President Reuven Rivlin announced his selection of the centrist politician and former Finance Minister in a televised address, saying “It is clear that parliament member Yair Lapid could form a government that has the confidence of the Knesset.”

The decision comes after President Rivlin conducted consultations with Lapid, who is the Chairman of the Yesh Atid party, and Yamina chief and former Defense Minister Naftali Bennett. He also received recommendations from other faction heads in writing.

Yesh Atid finished second with 17 parliamentary seats in the 23 March elections, while Netanyahu’s Likud garnered 30. Yamina holds 7 seats in the 24th Knesset.

So far, Lapid has the pledged support of 56 of the 120 Members of Knesset (MKs), which is still short of the simple majority necessary to form a viable coalition. “Many difficulties” lie ahead on his path to success, acknowledged President Rivlin, who also noted that 5 of the Joint Arab List’s 6 lawmakers supported Lapid.

In a statement accepting the appointment, Lapid expressed his intention of establishing a government consisting of MKs across the political spectrum “that will reflect the fact that we don’t hate one another.”

Israel has been plagued by political turmoil and division since 2018, reflected by inconclusive outcomes of 4 separate national elections since 2019.

Netanyahu, 71, is Israel’s longest serving premier, who has been fighting to hold onto office amid ongoing prosecution over charges of corruption which denies.

His strongest current political rival Lapid, 57, has ruled out serving in a government with Netanyahu, citing the criminal indictment against the Caretaker Prime Minister.

In a last-ditch effort to hold onto power in the hours after Lapid’s nomination, Netanyahu made yet another appeal for ultranationalist Yamina party to join him in a “solid right-wing bloc.”

“It’s a simple truth: this (a Lapid-led coalition) will be a dangerous left-wing government,” warned Netanyahu – who last lost an election before the turn of the century. But even if Bennett, who has already rejected previous offers from the right-wing Likud leader, was to agree to the latest offer, the envisioned coalition would still add up to just 59 mandates, which is still 2 short of the necessary majority.

In accordance with Israeli law, the Yesh Atid leader will now have 28 days to put together a coalition, the same allotment as previously granted Netanyahu.

One possible strategy to break Israel’s ongoing political impasse is a rotation agreement between Lapid and Bennett, 49. Alluding to such a potential power-sharing agreement in his address, President Rivlin said that he had entrusted Lapid to form the 36th government, “whether this is a government that he will head at the beginning, or a government headed by someone else first in which he will serve as Alternate Prime Minister.”

Failure to break the deadlock would lead to a yet another unwanted return to the ballot box by the Israeli public, as the country pursues economic recovery after the world’s leading rollout of the coronavirus vaccine and faces dangers posed by nuclear development by its fierce regional arch-foe, Iran.