Prime Minister Netanyahu announced yesterday that he’s officially handing back his mandate to president Rivlin after failing to form a new Israeli government. The mandate will now pass to his rival and Blue and White Party leader Benny Gantz, who will no doubt face the same difficulties as his opponent. But what exactly is at stake now that the first formation attempt has failed?
Since the deadline for his government formation had been set coming Wednesday, prime minister Netanyahu, facing unfavorable odds, decided to give back his mandate to president Rivlin. He did this in a video launched yesterday. The mandate for the formation will now most likely pass to his Blue and White rival and former Chief of Military Staff Benny Gantz. That means that, as of today, it will be the first time in almost 11 years that someone other than Netanyahu will be responsible for the formation of Israeli government.
This counts as the second time that the Israeli prime minister was unable to succesfully lead the formation after two rounds of elections in which Likud didn’t manage to secure a parliamentary majority. “Since I received the mandate, I have worked tirelessly both in public and behind the scenes to establish a broad, national unity government. That’s what the people want.” he clarified in a statement.
Conflicting interests and corruption
Netanyahu blames the failure of the formation on Gantz’s insistence on including Arab-majority parties into the new government against his will. “During the past few weeks, I made every effort to bring Benny Gantz to the negotiating table. Every effort to establish a broad national unity government, every effort to prevent another election,” he said. “To my regret, time after time he declined. He simply refused.”
Similarly, Gantz clarified that Netanyahu wasn’t negotiating in good faith since the unity government was only an option for the prime minister if it included his traditional hardline and religious allies. “The time for spin is over,” declared Blue and White in their statement. “Now is the time for action. Blue and White is determined to form a liberal national unity government led by Benny Gantz, whom the people elected about a month ago.”
On top of this, there is still the problem of Netanyahu potentially being indicted for Fraud, Bribery and Breach of Trust in three different, unrelated affairs, putting a lot of pressure on his shoulders to step aside as prime minister. If a unity government is formed before Israeli Attorney General Mendelblit decides to indict him, Netanyahu could remain in office since the prime minister is the only elected official allowed to do so. If, however, Mendelblit decides to indict him before the government has been officially formed, Netanyahu would not enjoy te privilege of immunity and he would have to step down. At that point, Israel would be in uncharted legal territory.
The result of Netanyahu’s resignation as ‘formateur’ leads to an interesting upcoming agenda.
- 22nd to 24th of October: President Rivlin has three days to make a decision about his next step, although it’s almost entirely certain that he will pass the formation mandate on to Gantz. However, in these three days, all Knesset factions have the option to meet with Rivlin if they so desire in order to discuss their ideas.
- 19th to 21st of November: Gantz will have 28 days to form a government, just like Netanyahu, and the deadline will be one of these days, depending on when Rivlin makes his decision. Unlike Netanyahu, however, Gantz will not have the option of a 14-day extension to his formation period.
- 10th to 12th of December: Should Gantz also fail to form a government, certain Knesset factions will have the opportunity to push forward a candidate for prime minister that they would judge fit for the job. If that happens, it would be unprecedented. These dates obviously count if Gantz uses up his full 28-day period for his attempt at formation.
- 3rd to 10th of March 2020: Within these dates would be held a third round of elections should the Knesset members fail to find a third candidate for the position of prime minister. It should be made clear that a third round of parliamentary elections in one year would be an absolute first in Israel’s history.
The second formateur
Benny Gantz, although being 60 years of age, is a bit of a newcomer in Israeli politics. He’s vowed to unify the country and heal its sectarian divides created, according to Blue and White, by a decade of Netanyahu branding Israel’s large 20% Arab minority as supporters of terror. His Blue and White party is a centrist coalition including many of Netanyahu’s critics, like secular politician Yair Lapid, and former senior military officers (like Gantz himself). Additionally, he’s hinted that he’d be interested in reinvigorating the peace process with the Palestinians, although he has remained vague on this matter.
The Blue and White leader has no problems entering into a government with Likud, but not with a prime minister who’s being tried for corruption. Several people, like Netanyahu’s party member Gideon Saar, have already indicated that they would be willing to succeed the prime minister, but as of yet, Likud has not dropped support for their current leader.