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Bibi nominated to form government

Israeli president Reuven Rivlin, right, presents Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with the mandate to form a new government, Sept. 25, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

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JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will get his second try this year to form Israel’s government after talks aimed at creating a unity government broke down.

President Reuven Rivlin tasked Netanyahu with forming a government on Wednesday evening even though his Likud party did not finish first in last week’s Knesset elections.

Rivlin on Sunday had begun consulting with the political parties that earned seats in the Knesset to find out who they believed should form the next government.

The centrist Blue and White, led by former military chief Benny Gantz, won 33 seats to 32 for Likud in the Sept. 17 balloting for the parliament.

However, 55 lawmakers recommended to Rivlin that Netanyahu try to form a government, one more than Gantz. Still, the incumbent is short of the 61 seats needed to form a viable coalition. He was unable to assemble a government following national elections in April.

Netanyahu has one month to cobble together a government. While he has the support of the nationalist and religious parties to the right of Likud, he still needs the backing of the secular-nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party led by ally turned rival Avigdor Liberman in order to return to the Prime Minister’s Office.

September’s repeat vote was triggered by Liberman, who would only join a Netanyahu coalition if the country’s military draft was expanded to include more haredi Orthodox men — they can use a religious exemption to avoid being conscripted in the army. The haredi parties balked, however, and the Knesset was disbanded, leading to the second election.

Liberman unsuccessfully attempted to use his leverage to force a national unity government. According to the Times of Israel, negotiations between Netanyahu and Gantz brokered by Rivlin could not resolve the issues of who would serve first as prime minister under a rotation or if Netanyahu’s far-right allies would be invited to be part of the government.

If Netanyahu fails to form a government within a month, Rivlin can tap Gantz or another Likud politician, the Jerusalem Post reported.

Despite failing to come to an agreement regarding a coalition with Blue and White, Netanyahu said on Wednesday evening that Israel needed a “broad national unity government” in order to deal with the challenges facing the country and to “achieve national reconciliation” following what he described as a “tough election campaign on all sides.”

Netanyahu said he would “make every effort” to establish such a government “as soon as possible.”

In response, Gantz stated that “Blue and White is committed to the idea of unity, but from our perspective, the appropriate order would see negotiations between the two largest parties — and them alone — in order to reach agreements on the substantive issues and the character of the next government,” the Times of Israel reported.

Earlier in the week, the Arab Joint List had recommended to President Reuven Rivlin that Blue and White head Benny Gantz be tapped to form the next government in order to end the political career of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Joint List head Ayman Odeh explained his coalition’s decision in an op-ed published in The New York Times on Sunday, Sept. 22.

“We will decide who will be the next prime minister of Israel,” Odeh wrote.

“This will be the most significant step toward helping create the majority needed to prevent another term for Mr. Netanyahu. And it should be the end of his political career.”

“The Israeli government has done everything in its power to reject those of us who are Arab Palestinian citizens, but our influence has only grown. We will be the cornerstone of democracy. Arab Palestinian citizens cannot change the course of Israel alone, but change is impossible without us. I have argued that if the center-left parties of Israel believe that Arab Palestinian citizens have a place in this country, they must accept that we have a place in its politics,” Odeh wrote.

He clarified that although the Joint List would recommend Gantz, it would not officially join his government, but vote to support him from outside the ruling coalition.

“My colleagues and I have made this decision not as an endorsement of Mr. Gantz and his policy proposals for the country.

“We are aware that Mr. Gantz has refused to commit to our legitimate political demands for a shared future and because of that we will not join his government,” Odeh wrote.

The Balad Party, one of the four Arab parties that makes up the Joint List, was opposed to recommending Gantz because of his “Zionist ideology, his right-wing positions that are not much different than the Likud, his bloody and aggressive military history.” Balad representatives did not attend the meeting with Rivlin.

“As we warned, the Arab parties that oppose Israel as a Jewish and democratic state and glorify terrorists recommended Gantz for prime minister,” Likud said in a statement issued after the Joint List meeting with Rivlin.

“Likud will make every effort to establish a stable and strong government committed to maintaining Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. We can’t have a government that relies on Arab parties that oppose the State of Israel,” the statement also said.



JTA

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