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October 3, 2019 3:12 pm

New Knesset Inaugurated, but Top Parties Remain at Impasse, Keeping Threat of Third Elections Looming

avatar by Benjamin Kerstein

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin addresses the opening session of the 22nd Knesset, in Jerusalem Oct. 3, 2019. Photo: Reuters / Ronen Zvulun.

In a series of developments in the continuing stalemate over who will form Israel’s next government, Blue and White party number two Yair Lapid gave up his chance to serve as prime minister, current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed he considering holding party primaries to shore up his mandate as leader, and the 22nd Knesset was sworn in.

The Sept. 17 elections ended in a draw, with neither the centrist Blue and White party nor Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud able to form a majority government. Negotiations have been ongoing regarding the potential establishment of a unity coalition, but have not borne fruit so far.

Lapid’s announcement was perhaps the most dramatic moment of the day, as he confirmed that he was forgoing his agreement with Blue and White head Benny Gantz that they would both serve as prime minister via a rotation agreement.

The Israeli news site Walla reported that, at a hastily-called press conference, Lapid said, “For the sake of a unity government, I am giving up on the rotation. It is much more important to me that there will be unity among the people, that there will not be elections, that the state begins a process of healing, of binding up wounds, of a change in priorities.”

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The rotation deal in which Gantz would serve first as prime minister and then be replaced by Lapid after two years was one of the founding principles of the merger that formed the Blue and White party last year, and was widely seen as alienating potential voters, as Gantz was generally viewed as far more suitable for the premiership than Lapid.

Lapid blamed Netanyahu for being the primary obstacle to a unity government, saying, “One man with three indictments stands between us and a unity government.”

He called for such a government composed of Blue and White, a Netanyahu-less Likud, Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu and Amir Peretz’s Labor.

Lapid emphasized that his party would not sit in government with an indicted prime minister.

“The people of Israel deserve better,” he said.

Israeli media outlets also reported that Netanyahu was strongly considering a snap Likud leadership primary to shore up his position in the party.

MK Gideon Saar, a top Netanyahu rival within Likud and a potential successor, tweeted in response to the news: “I am ready.”

The Israeli news site Mako reported that Sa’ar later said at a party faction meeting that his message spoke for itself, noting, “When there is a need to elaborate, we will elaborate according to the decisions that are made.”

When asked whether he had made a final decision on holding primaries, Netanyahu replied that he was still considering it.

Likud Minister Yuval Steinitz told Netanyahu that primaries would be an “own goal.”

Referring to what he sawaas Blue and White’s attempt to force the Likud to change leadership, Netanyahu replied, “Blue and White is counting on a putsch and this must be taken off the agenda.”

Amidst the continuing political impasse, the 22nd Knesset was formally sworn in and inaugurated by President Reuven Rivlin on Thursday.

Yediot Ahronot reported that, speaking to the assembly, Rivlin emphasized the resilience of Israeli democracy, saying, “These days, we sometimes feel that it is difficult, difficult to live the dream, but we cannot forget for a minute — we are privileged, we are privileged to live the dream.”

“The State of Israel is a miracle, a Jewish and democratic state, Jewish and democratic in the same breath, a secure home,” Rivlin added.

Rivlin put a positive spin on the inconclusive elections results, calling them a “red card to populism, to political discourse that nourishes itself on division.”

As he has done many times over the past month, Rivlin highlighted the need for a unity government, saying, “Leaders of the people: The possibility and the opportunity lies in establishing a broad government, enabling us to pause our disagreements and work to identify the areas of agreement that lie within us.”

Such a government must “work for the citizens of Israel, for the economy, for the betterment of Israel’s security and to allow us all to breathe and to heal a little,” Rivlin said.

“The eyes of the entire people are on you, the small parties and the big parties,” he implored. “I have no magic solution, but the people don’t need such solutions. They need leaders, they need you.”

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