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September 25, 2019 2:24 pm

Israeli President Gives Netanyahu Mandate to Form Government, Urges Unity

avatar by Benjamin Kerstein

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin (R) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attend a nomination ceremony at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, Sept. 25, 2019. Photo: Reuters / Ronen Zvulun.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin on Wednesday gave Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the mandate to make the first attempt to form a government following last week’s national vote.

The Sept. 17 Knesset elections ended in a deadlock, with both Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud and Benny Gantz’s centrist Blue and White parties short of the allies needed to establish a 61-MK majority.

In giving Netanyahu the mandate, Rivlin noted that there is no chance for the prime minister to set up a coalition without Blue and White.

“The conclusion of the consultations shows that there are not 61 [Knesset] seats sufficient to form a government — not for Benjamin Netanyahu, nor for MK and former chief of staff Benny Gantz,” Rivlin said.

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Netanyahu, Rivlin pointed out, had more of a chance to form a government, however, since he received 55 recommendations to Gantz’s 54. Furthermore, ten of those 54 said that they would not sit in a Gantz-led government, giving the prime minister an advantage.

Rivlin also revealed that during brief negotiations between Likud and Blue and White, he had suggested a reform that would allow the prime minister to recuse himself while another MK assumed the full powers of the office, which would have allowed Netanyahu to leave office while he fights corruption charges yet at the same time still retain a path to return to government. Negotiations, however, failed to produce an agreement.

Rivlin warned against continued division between the parties, saying, “As long as the disqualifications and boycotts of entire social groups are not stopped, as long as there is no motivation to create new alliances between new parties, as long as there is no desire to reach consensus and compromise, I am greatly sorry to say that no government will be formed.”

“On at least one issue, the majority of the people has succeeded in agreeing,” Rivlin told Netanyahu. “The people do not want another election.”

After receiving the mandate from the president, Netanyahu urged the immediate formation of a unity government with Blue and White, saying, “I do this knowing that I am not more likely to form a government, but that my inability is a little smaller than Gantz’s inability. Because we are both incapable of forming a government, the order of the day is a unified, national, broad government.”

“We have been through a tough election campaign on all sides, and we need to unite the people to repair the damage, because we are facing huge challenges that the public knows and does not know about,” Netanyahu added.

Netanyahu — who has been Israel’s prime minister since 2009 — said the major challenges facing the Jewish state were the threat from Iran and the opportunities presented by US President Donald Trump’s yet-to-be-revealed Middle East peace plan.

As Netanyahu was getting the mandate from the president, Gantz stated that unity talks had failed due to Blue and White’s refusal to sit with a prime minister facing indictment and Likud’s insistence on including its ultra-Orthodox and far-right partners in a governing coalition.

“This arrangement does not allow … negotiations for the establishment of a broad government headed by me for all citizens of Israel,” Gantz said. “In particular, this arrangement does not allow a government to represent those who together elected the two major parties, which will determine what the next government’s basic principles will be.”

“Blue and White is committed to the idea of ​​unity,” Gantz added, “but for us the correct order of things is negotiation between the two major parties — and only between them — to reach agreement on the content and substance of the next government.”

Earlier in the day, Gantz’s number two, Yair Lapid, tweeted, “Benny Gantz will be prime minister and Bibi will go deal with his criminal cases. The Likud’s transparent attempts at creating conflict do not impress any of us.”

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