Likud fury as Israeli president suggests he may skip over Netanyahu

Senior Likud members slam Reuven Rivlin for saying he may skip over Prime Minister Netanyahu to form a government.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin angered senior members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party Wednesday, saying it was not a given that he would select Netanyahu next week to try and form a coalition government.

Rivlin received the official results of the March 23 election and by law has to consult with all of the 13 parties elected to the Knesset, after which he will next week task the leader of one party with trying to form a coalition government.

Despite Netanyahu’s Likud Party winning 30 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, 13 more than the next largest party, the centrist Yesh Atid, Rivlin said he might bypass Netanyahu if he felt another person stood a better chance of gaining the support of small parties to form at least a 61-seat majority.

“Let me be clear, as it is clear to us all, that after consultations with the parties in the Knesset, the main consideration that will guide me in selecting a candidate to entrust with forming a government is the chance of the selected Knesset Member to form a government that will secure the confidence of the Knesset,” Rivlin said at a press conference where he received the election results from Supreme Court Justice Uzi Fogelman.

“I will consider who is the candidate with the best chance of forming a government,” Rivlin said.

That statement angered the Likud, who interpreted it as a violation of the political neutrality inherent in the president’s role.

Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin, Minister of Energy Yuval Steinitz and Minister of Public Safety Amir Ohana tweeted a statement saying Rivlin has no choice and is obligated to choose the leader of the largest party.

“The president does not determine the election results! He must not be a political actor,” the Likud statement said. “Since the establishment of the state, all Israeli presidents have given the first opportunity to form a government to the candidate who received the largest number of recommendations – and this should be the case this time as well.”

That statement was attacked by Gideon Saar, leader of the right-wing New Hope party, a former Likud member who bolted the party before the election with other dissatisfied Likud members hoping to unseat Netanyahu.

“The Likud’s savage attack on the president days before his decision according to his statutory authority is another stage in Netanyahu’s campaign against all … symbols of statehood,” Saar tweeted. “Netanyahu is interested in absolute and eternal rule while trampling on all state systems. The time has come for him to step aside and allow Israel to return to itself.”

Netanyahu received support from the religious Shas Party, which has already declared they will support him.

“I am sure that of all the candidates, only Benjamin Netanyahu has the option of forming a stable right-wing government,” tweeted Shas leader Aryeh Deri. “No other candidate can form a government. Therefore, I am sure that President Reuven Rivlin will give the mandate to form a government to Netanyahu so that he can work to form a stable government.”

Israel’s fourth election in the past two years resulted in another stalemate, with no bloc of parties on the Right or Left having enough support for a parliamentary majority.

Netanyahu is hoping to form a narrow right-wing coalition, but may be forced to rely on the support of the Islamist United Arab List (Ra’am) party to do so. His opponents are trying to overcome ideological differences and oust him with a coalition that might see two or more party leaders take turns being prime minister.

As early as Thursday, Rivlin is expected to begin the consultations with representatives of all parties to hear their recommendations on which leader they think can cobble together enough support to form a government.

“Israeli society needs a government that will pass a budget, that will lead a process where the symptoms and the citizens who have been harmed are made better, and where the institutions of the state are rescued from the political stalemate that we found ourselves in precisely at the time when Israel’s citizens need them more than ever,” Rivlin said.