Netanyahu fights against time to build government as deadline looms

Netanyahu is up against the clock to create a governing coalition as time runs out at midnight on Wednesday.

By David Isaac, World Israel News

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is struggling to form a coalition in a scenario he probably didn’t predict when he led a decisive right-wing victory in Israel’s elections last month.

But there appears to be a real chance he will not succeed in cobbling together a government before the deadline of midnight Wednesday.

The Likud seems to be preparing for this worst-case scenario. Following a Likud meeting on Sunday afternoon, Likud MK Miki Zohar sounded a pessimistic note, saying “it appears that the Knesset will dissolve on Wednesday night,” meaning a government will not be formed.

Today, Zohar will present a motion to dissolve the Knesset, the Ynet news site reports.

Netanyahu however is still making a last-ditch effort to build a coalition. On Saturday, he huddled with his party’s main negotiators at his home in Caesarea to see if there was a path forward. The meeting followed numerous failed attempts last week to bridge the gap on the main issue.

The sticking point is the military conscription bill, which is geared to drafting male seminary students from the haredi sector, sometimes referred to as the ultra-Orthodox, into the Israeli Army. The issue has caused a great deal of friction in Israeli society over the years, as the general population views haredim as not doing their fair share in a country where serving in the military is mandatory.

Two of Netanyahu’s potential coalition partners stand at opposite ends of the debate. Both have dug in their heels, grinding negotiations to a halt.

The first, United Torah Judaism, led by Yaakov Litzman, is a haredi party and wants to see changes made to the bill that would water it down. It is joined by the Shas party, another haredi party. Together, they control 16 seats in the Knesset.

On the other side stands the Israel Beiteinu party led by Avigdor Liberman. He refuses to join the coalition if any modifications are made to the proposed law. His party holds five seats.

Netanyahu needs all three parties if he wishes to govern. With those three, plus other smaller parties, he would have a comfortable 65-seat majority in the 120-seat Knesset.

According to reports, the haredi parties had shown a willingness to compromise but Liberman remained unyielding, which would explain why the Likud publicly berated the Israel Beiteinu leader in an attempt to pressure him to return to the negotiating table. Liberman has so far proven resistant to pressure.

On Saturday, Liberman went on the attack, taking a crack at Netanyahu in a Facebook post: “The right isn’t a personality cult. The right comprises values. Army service was always an uppermost value in the worldview of the nationalist camp.”

If Israel goes to back-to-back elections, it will be the first time in the country’s history.

But there’s a possibility that the opposition will be handed a chance to form a government, or even another member of the Likud party.

It is clear that the opposition, led by Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz, feels it deserves a chance. Ynet reports that a senior Blue and White official said that it wouldn’t support MK Zohar’s proposal to dissolve the Knesset “if we don’t first get the possibility to form a government first.”

“The law says that if Netanyahu can’t form a government, we or another Knesset member from the Likud should have the opportunity,” a second senior Blue and White member said, the paper reports.