The real kingmaker: President Rivlin to be ‘dominant figure’ in coalition efforts

Rivlin will have more say this time in the coalition talks than he did after April’s election.

By World Israel News Staff

President Reuven Rivlin will open coalition talks on Sunday. His first decision is to decide who to give the first shot at building a governing coalition – Blue and White leader Benny Gantz or Likud head and current prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

Ynet reports on Sunday that everyone agrees that, unlike the previous election campaign, this time the president will be “a dominant and influential figure.” The reason is that no candidate has an easy path to the minimum 61-Knesset seat majority required to govern.

Rivlin will begin meeting with party heads at 5:00 p.m. Israeli time on Sunday, starting with the biggest parties and going to the smallest. The proceedings will be broadcast live.

Director-General of the President’s Residence Harel Tubi said that the guiding principle for Rivlin is to do what’s in the best interest of the public.

“In recent weeks, the President’s House received inquiries from citizens belonging to all sectors – ultra-Orthodox, Arab, national-religious and secular, who have voted for parties from across the political spectrum – and everyone came with the same request: Just no more elections,” Tubi said.

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The president is “prepared to do everything in his power, within the authority granted to him by law, so that a stable government will be established in Israel and we’ll avoid going to third elections.” he said.

It appears that Gantz is likely to be chosen first to try and form a government. His party received more mandates than Likud (33-31). And he has a larger potential coalition (57-55).

Citing Likud party officials, Ynet reports that the Likud wants Gantz to take first crack at building a coalition, as they predict he’ll fail for at least two reasons.

First, they estimate that Gantz can’t build a coalition that relies on the Arab party, the Joint List, which won 15 seats in the election. (Historically, relying on the Arab vote, which is hostile to Zionism, has been a red line in Israeli politics.)

Second, Netanyahu has locked in his right-wing allies to an agreement to only support him as prime minister in order to prevent defectors from the right-wing camp to Gantz.

Israeli media has reported that Likud officials are worried that Ayelet Shaked and Naftali Bennett of the New Right party, which ran together with religious-Zionist parties in the now defunct technical bloc known as Yemina (or “Rightward”), may go to Gantz. However, right-wing pundits dismiss this as simply an impossibility and wishful thinking on the part of left-wing political commentators.

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Ynet reports that the dilemma for Gantz is whether going first is best. If Netanyahu is first and fails to form a government, it will be easier for Gantz to bring the Likud in without Netanyahu, the party estimates.

However, there’s a possibility, however low, that Netanyahu succeeds, in which case Gantz will find himself stuck in the opposition.

If Gantz goes first he will have 28 days to form a coalition. That may be extended another 14 days at the president’s discretion. If he doesn’t succeed, the baton will pass to Netanyahu, who will receive 28 days with no chance of an extension.

If both fail, there remains three weeks for Knesset members to propose another candidate as a last-ditch option before calling for a third election, Ynet reports.