In a surprising turn of events, Benjamin Netanyahu will be given yet another chance to hold onto his title as Prime Minister — a potential lifeline for the premiere who is facing an impending indictment on charges of corruption and bribery.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin announced on Wednesday evening that he would be giving Netanyahu the first shot at forming a governing coalition, over his opponent Benny Gantz.
For now, Netanyahu has up to six weeks to cobble together a 61-seat majority. If he fails, as he did in April, the chance to form a majority may be given to Gantz and his running mate Yair Lapid.
While Kahol Lavan won more seats than Likud in the election, it was Netanyahu who received more recommendations from party leaders during their meetings over the weekend with Rivlin.
Israeli media reports have claimed that Gantz was actually hoping that Netanyahu would be given the first chance to form a coalition, and fail, while others speculated that Gantz was worried about moving forward and being portrayed as being influenced by Arab voters.
Reports surfaced on Monday that Joint List leader Ayman Odeh, who threw his party’s support behind Gantz on Sunday, was contacted by a Kahol Lavan MK who asked him to ensure that only 10 of the 13 Joint List MKs endorsed Gantz, handing the majority of recommendations to Netanyahu.
Rivlin’s decision to tap Netanyahu came amidst a stalemate in negotiations between Netanyahu’s Likud and Gantz’s Kahol Lavan over a potential unity government, which analysts speculate could still be a viable option.
During the announcement Wednesday, Haaretz reported, Netanyahu said he was accepting Rivlin’s mandate “knowing that I don’t have a better chance of forming a government, but let’s say that my inability is a little smaller than Gantz’s.”
Rivlin reiterated that he will do everything in his power to keep the country from going into another election, emphasizing the fact that a unity government was what the public wanted.
In his speech, Netanyahu continuously hinted at his desire to form a unity government with Gantz, saying “both of us won’t be able to form a government except with each other,” Haaretz said.
He also referenced the “threat” of Iran, and the prospect of implementing US President Donald Trump’s “Deal of the Century,” saying a national unity government would be Israel’s best chance at securing its borders against Iran, and securing a deal with Trump.
If he fails to form a coalition, Netanyahu said, he would return the mandate to the president and “with the help of God and with the help of the citizens of Israel, and with your, the president’s, help, we will form a broad, national unity government later on.”
Netanyahu’s vocal support of forming a unity government are indicative of his desperation to remain, in whatever capacity, as prime minister, given the fact that the attorney general is expected to move forward with indictments against him.
If he is criminally charged while acting as prime minister, Netanyahu can continue to serve until a final conviction is handed down. However, if he fails to form a governing coalition or unity government and is forced into a lesser ministerial role, he will be forced to resign.
Despite Netanyahu’s efforts, Gantz has maintained that he and his party will not serve in a unity government “which has a prime minister against whom stands a severe indictment.”