In America, the saying is that it’s not over until the fat lady sings. There’s not a Hebrew equivalent, but that’s essentially the best advice when predicting any Israeli political outcome. This is particularly true after three inconclusive elections in less than one year, and now with the seeming loser of the most recent election tapped to lead the next permanent government.
On Thursday, 72 members of the 120-member Knesset endorsed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – who has been leading a caretaker government for over a year – to establish a fully operating government. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin immediately gave that task to Netanyahu who now has two weeks in which to pull together all the parties that want to be part of his coalition government. In the recent election, the majority of Knesset members elected were initially against Netanyahu retaining the premiership.
Swearing in of the new government is expected Wednesday, May 13.
The latest turn in the nearly soap-opera-style story came a day after the Israeli High Court rejected all the petitions that challenged Netanyahu’s ability to form a new government while he’s under indictment and soon to go to trial. as well as petitions against several conditions of the proposed unity government. The court also rejected petitions against several conditions of the proposed unity government agreement after the Knesset voted to revise the conditions.
The court threw out the latter petitions after the Knesset voted to revise several of the conditions.
Chief Justice Esther Hayut stated, “We did not find any legal reason to prevent MK [Member of the Knesset] Netanyahu from forming a government.” However, she called the coalition deal agreed to by Netanyahu and Blue and his former opponent White party head Benny Gantz “highly unusual.”
However, the court indicated that it might hear future challenges to the legislation supporting the agreement when it stated that “at this time” there was no reason to intervene. And, immediately, another petition was filed with the court.
The Movement for Quality Government in Israel, which had filed one of the previous petitions against the proposed coalition agreement, asked the court to cancel the amendment passed by the Knesset that allows Gantz to be an alternate prime minister and take over that position from Netanyahu after 18 months. “This is a fundamental change in the system of governance of Israel’s democracy,” the petition stated. “The agreement tramples on Israel’s democratic system and represents unprecedented harm to the legislature’s independence.”
The controversial 14-page unity government agreed to between Netanyahu’s Likud party and the Blue and White party is based on an unusual power-sharing agreement. Now that Rivlin officially tasked Netanyahu with forming a new government, it is expected that the religious parties will immediately sign on. The only big question mark is the settler-right wing party Yamina. The jockeying for heading ministries is continuing.
If, for some reason, Netanyahu is unable to achieve a majority government in that two- week period, the country will head again to the polls.
Meanwhile, on May 24, the trial of Netanyahu is scheduled to begin. He is facing several charges of corruption, including bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three different cases. The trial and any appeals are expected to take years.