Netanyahu gets first crack at forming a government

In the aftermath of last week’s inconclusive elections, Israeli president Reuven Rivlin has asked Benjamin Netanyahu to form a government. Netanyahu has until October 24 to do so.

Rivlin declared that Netanyahu, the current prime minister, has the best chance to form a government.
I think Rivlin is correct that Netanyahu has a better chance of doing so than his main opponent, Benny Gantz, who specializes in declaring victory but not in achieveing it.

But that doesn’t mean Netanyahu will succeed. He couldn’t accomplish this task after the April elections in which his party fared better than it did last week.

Netanyahu needs the support of 61 Knesset members. He already has a bloc of 55. To get to 61 he would need backing from Yisrael Beytenu, Labor-Gesher, or Blue and White. As the Jerusalem Post notes, each has repeatedly refused to support Netanyahu, because they won’t serve with the religious parties in his coalition or because they won’t serve with a prime minister who is under criminal investigation (or both).

Netanyahu put it best when he said: “My inability to form a government is slightly less than that of Gantz.”

If Netanyahu fails, Gantz would likely get the next crack. Rivlin made it a condition of giving the mandate to Netanyahu that he return it if he fails to form a government, rather than calling for new elections in order to block someone else from trying to form one. That’s what Netanyahu did after the last elections.

If no one with the mandate is able to form a government, ordinarily the next step would be new elections. However, Rivlin raised another possibility. He noted that, by law, after the candidate with a mandate fails to form a government, instead of giving the mandate to another candidate, the Knesset can choose a candidate if 61 Knesset members support him (or her).

This would be an extraordinary step. However, if it could be done, it would avoid yet another election. Rivlin was surely correct when he stated: “The people do not want additional elections.”

But Netanyahu and Gantz are able party leaders. If neither can get to 61, it’s far from clear that Knesset members could do so on their own.