Netanyahu warns partners: Time running out to form right-wing gov’t

“I regret that the parties are still in the treetops,” Netanyahu told a weekly meeting of his old Cabinet as the formation of a new one remains elusive.

By David Jablinowitz, World Israel News

With a deadline looming to form a new government, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is urging his potential future partners to get off the “treetops” in order to prevent losing an opportunity to form a right-wing government and potentially even forcing yet another Knesset election.

On the heels of the April 9th parliamentary ballot, Netanyahu has until May 28 to build a new majority in the 120-seat Knesset, though he might begrudgingly suffice temporarily with 60 members to get the government running and lure in others later.

Still operating with the ministers of his previous government, the prime minister said at the weekly Cabinet meeting: “I regret that the parties are still in the treetops. I hope that a way will be found soon to bring them down to the ground of reality so that together we can form a strong and stable government for the State of Israel that will continue to lead the country to new heights.”

Netanyahu’s Likud party finished tied with the Blue and White faction in the election with 35 seats each. President Reuven Rivlin, in his ceremonial capacity, gave the incumbent prime minister the nod over Blue and White leader Benny Gantz to form the next government because parties representing a majority of the Knesset told the president that they prefer the Likud.

Common wisdom and the historic track record indicate that parties are likely to fall in line before time runs out next week. If, however, that scenario does not play out, Rivlin would give MK Gantz a crack, and if he fails, Israelis could find themselves going back to the polls.

Seeking legal immunity

Netanyahu finds himself in a position to form a new government despite criminal indictments which are pending against him in three cases.

Channel 12 news reported comments made by the prime minister that he intended to advance legislation that would grant him legal immunity as long as he remains premier.

“After I complete my term, I will address my legal affairs. Israel’s citizens knew what my situation was and elected me,” he reportedly said.

“If I were thinking of my personal good, I would conduct my trial as prime minister, not as a private citizen, but I realize that it would not be for the good of the state,” Netanyahu added, according to Channel 12.

The process of forming a governing majority includes reaching an agreement on policy guidelines with each of the coalition partners.

Likud sources say that in order to prevent additional confrontations with potential partners who object to the immunity legislation, the prime minister’s ambition to pass the bill might not be included specifically in the policy guidelines. Criticism of such a law has also come from some members of Netanyahu’s own party.

Other demands reportedly being made in the coalition negotiations include the call by the Union of Right-Wing Parties (URP) to remove military authority from the day-to-day life of Israelis in Judea and Samaria. The objective of such a move would be to transfer authority to Israeli civilian bodies instead and thereby carry out a de facto imposition of Israeli law on the Jewish communities of Judea and Samaria.

Also in the government formation talks, religious-secular tensions still exist between Haredi Orthodox factions and the Yisrael Beytenu party which objects to what it views as religious coercion.

The prime minister is faced, as well, with the task of placating Knesset members from the Likud and the coalition partners by appointing them to prestigious ministerial and parliamentary positions.