The deadline for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to form the country’s 36th government expired at midnight last night without success.
The veteran leader had been tasked first by President Reuven Rivlin to build a viable coalition after his Likud party garnered the largest share of votes (30) in the 23 March inconclusive elections in which neither Netanyahu nor his rivals gained control of a parliamentary majority, but was ultimately unable to reach agreement with his natural right-wing and religious partners.
The President’s Residence issued a formal message at 00:14 this morning, stating that Netanyahu had returned the mandate to Rivlin shortly before midnight given his inability to form a government within the 28 day period he had been allotted in accordance with Israel’s Basic Law: The Government (2001).
He scheduled meetings this morning with 57-year-old Member of Knesset (MK) and former Finance Minister Yair Lapid, whose centrist Yesh Atid party placed second (17 mandates) to Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud; as well as ultranationalist MK and former Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, 49, of the Yamina party (7). Other party leaders were asked to convey their recommendations in writing by 2 PM.
Lapid and Bennett have already been engaged in power-sharing talks centered on a rotation agreement, under which the Yamina Chairman would first serve as prime minister followed by the Yesh Atid Chairman.
The Likud directly blamed Bennet for Netanyahu’s inability to gain simple majority support of 61 MKs. In a statement released just after passage of the midnight deadline, Likud released the statement that, “Because of Bennett’s refusal to commit to a right-wing government, a move that would definitely have led to the establishment of a government with additional MKs joining, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu returned the mandate to the president.”
Netanyahu, who is Israel’s longest serving Premier, has been in office continuously since 2009 in addition to serving another 3-year stint in the 1990s. The 71-year-old leader has tenaciously been fighting to hold the helm through four inconclusive elections since 2019. He is also currently being prosecuted on criminal corruption charges that he denies, and much of the political impasse results from Netanyahu’s legal troubles as some prospective allies pledged not to serve under a Prime Minister who is on trial.
There is no guarantee that his rivals will succeed in bridging differences to cobble together a patchwork coalition of left-wing, centrist and rightist parties outside Netanyahu’s caretaker government to unseat him.
Lawmakers representing Israel’s 20% Arab minority sector have been courted by all sides, potentially giving them say over a Cabinet for the first time in decades.
Failure to overcome the deadlock would lead to yet another round of unprecedented and unwanted elections – which would be Israel’s 5th in less than 2 years.