With 72 Knesset members’ support, Rivlin tasks Netanyahu with forming new government

With only hours before the midnight deadline, 72 Knesset members endorse the prime minister and avoid going to elections. Netanyahu has two weeks to form a government, but is expected to convene the Knesset next week to be sworn in.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

Having received the recommendation of a majority of Knesset members before the midnight deadline, Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin tasked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Thursday with forming a new government within two weeks.

Earlier in the evening Rivlin received the signed recommendations of 72 Knesset members that he give the job of forming a new government to Netanyahu, who now has 14 days to do so and is expected to convene parliament on May 13 to swear in the new government.

“According to the request of a majority of Knesset members that was presented to me … I hereby inform you that you have a period of 14 days to form a government,” Rivlin wrote in a letter sent to Netanyahu and copied to Knesset Speaker Benny Gantz, who will take his turn as prime minister in a power sharing deal after the unity government has been in office for 18 months.

Had the midnight deadline passed without the recommendation, or if Netanyahu’s plans for a unity government fall apart in the next 14 days, the Knesset will automatically be dissolved and Israelis will be faced with a fourth national election in a little over a year.

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After battling each other in three inconclusive elections, Netanyahu and Gantz announced their emergency government last month, saying they would put aside their rivalry to steer the country through the coronavirus crisis. The unity deal was approved by the Supreme Court earlier this week after opposition members and citizen action groups challenged Netanyahu’s legitimacy to serve and said the terms of the coalition agreement were illegal.

The unity government will include Netanyahu’s Likud party and Gantz’s Blue and White, and is expected to include the Shas and United Torah Judaism religious parties as well as two of the three members of the once dominant Labor Party, which has been reduced to three members, one of whom will sit in the opposition benches.

Due to the coronavirus crisis the signatures were collected individually on a form and the press was provided with 72 PDF files with the individual signatures. Notably missing were the six Knesset members from the right-wing Yamina Party headed by Defense Minister Naftali Bennett and former Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, and Labor member Merav Michaeli who split from her two colleagues and refused to join a government under Netanyahu.

Pushed to the sidelines by Netanyahu and with his ministry apparently going to a senior Likud or Blue and White member, Bennett and his party appeared to have the chosen to join the opposition rather than take marginal roles in the unity government.

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Opposition Yesh Atid Party leader Yair Lapid attacked Netanyahu, saying the prime minister could not escape his upcoming trial on corruption charges. Netanyahu has consistently denied the charges and claimed opponents are trying to frame him because they failed to vote him out of office.

“In another week they want to form a government, because in two weeks Netanyahu’s trial will open. In another week they will swear allegiance to him, another two weeks he will be tried for bribery, fraud and breach of trust,” Lapid tweeted.

One of the first tasks for Netanyahu and Gantz will be a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who is expected to arrive next Wednesday for a 24-hour visit.