Israeli President Reuven Rivlin started two days of crucial talks on Sunday with representatives of all parliamentary factions before selecting his candidate for prime minister, after a repeated stalemate was set to make the formation of a new government a daunting task.
The largely ceremonial president of Israel has the task of choosing the politician with the best chance of forming a stable coalition government. While it is usually a simple formality, this time Rivlin plays a key role after an election result in which none of the best candidates has an absolute majority.
"The president, in this case, will be very, very involved in the details. He will ask for clear answers, "said Harel Tubi, the president's chief aide, on the Israeli army radio." I think this time he will turn consultations into consultations that have the ability to present other possibilities, of the kind the public he hasn't heard of it yet. "
In last week's vote, the blue and white centrist Benny Gantz party won 33 seats in the 120-member parliament, while conservative Benjamin Netanyahu's conservative Likud took 31 seats. Nor can it hold a parliamentary majority with their traditional small allies.
The decisive factor appears to be Avigdor Lieberman and the eight seats captured by his party Yisrael Beitenu. Lieberman calls for a broad unity government with the two main parties which is secular and excludes ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties. This seems to be the emerging compromise between Blue and White and Likud, although both insist on driving it.
The complicated questions are Blue and White's refusal to be with Netanyahu because he has to face a probable accusation of corruption charges.
The first step to quit the quagmire are the consultations at the president's residence, where each party is asked to make recommendations. Although Netanyahu's Likud has lost support, its allies seem to give Netanyahu the support of 55 members of parliament. For Gantz to resign from Netanyahu, he will need the support of the mixed list of Arab parties, which has emerged as the third largest party with 13 seats, and has traditionally refrained from openly supporting a candidate for the prime minister.
The Arab-led parties never sat in an Israeli government and its leader, Ayman Odeh, claims to want to become a leader of the opposition in the event of a unity government. But he did not rule out giving Gantz his recommendation to the president to counteract another Netanyahu-led government. It would be the first time since 1992 that the Arab parties played a role in the process. The decision will come down next Sunday, before the party representatives meet Rivlin.
In opening his series of meetings, Rivlin gave no indication of where he was leaning, but stated that he had interpreted the will of the people as a desire for a "stable" government.
"Over the years I've learned that people are less worried about who runs the system," said Rivlin, 80. "First of all, they want the system to create a stable government. And there can be no stable government without the two big parties ".
The eventual Rivlin candidate will have up to six weeks to form a coalition. If that fails, Rivlin could give another candidate for prime minister 28 days to form a coalition. And if this does not work, the new elections would have been activated once again. Rivlin said he will do everything possible to avoid such a scenario and no one seems interested in a third Israeli election within a year.
Last week's vote took place because Netanyahu was unable to form a coalition after the April elections without the support of Lieberman, an unpredictable ally who became a rival and overturned Israeli politics in recent months. The former minister of nationalist defense, but secular, said he was equally uncomfortable with both blocks and announced that he would not advise anyone for the Prime Minister.
"We have defined an option for us, the three parts," he said, referring to his own party along with Blue and White and Likud. "If we succeed in forming such a government I would be happy, otherwise, as the older people say, it is a great honor to also serve the people of Israel in the opposition."
The entire process is Netanyahu's prosecution hearing scheduled in two weeks, after which he could face allegations of corruption, breach of trust and fraud in three separate corruption cases. Netanyahu had hoped to secure a small majority of hard-line and religious parties that would support him by granting him immunity from prosecution. With immunity now off the table, Netanyahu is desperately seeking to remain in office despite long odds.
Israeli law does not require the resignation of a prime minister in the event of incrimination. But if he is accused, as is widely expected, he would be under great pressure to resign.
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