The Israeli PM has until 5 May to form a government. If he fails, the mandate will either be given to another candidate or back to the Knesset, something that might trigger another national vote, the fifth in two years.
The 28 days that were given to Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to form a government will expire on 5 May.
If he is unable to establish a coalition, the country’s President Reuven Rivlin would need to choose one of two options. The first would be to pick another candidate, who would be entrusted with a similar task. The second would be to give the mandate back to the Knesset, where lawmakers would need to put forward a contender, who would be able to form a government and lead Israel out of the political stalemate it is currently in.
Hawkish Government? Chances Are Slim
The way it looks now, Netanyahu will not be able to pull any rabbits out of his hat. He got 30 out of 120 seats in the Israeli parliament, and will need to collect 31 more signatures to retain his position.
But no matter how much he tries, the numbers don’t seem to add up.
Netanyahu is working on two possible scenarios. The first is to form a full right-wing government that would comprise of a number of hawkish parties.
These would include the PM’s Likud, three religious parties and the lawmakers of Naftali Bennett’s Yamina as well as Gideon Saar’s New Hope.
The trouble is that Saar, who split away from Likud in December, is not planning to budge. In his pre-election campaign he promised voters that he would never sit down in a Netanyahu government.
For him it is not only a matter of ideological differences and political disagreements with the PM, whom he blames for putting his personal interests above those of the country.
For him it is also personal. Saar has spent many years in Netanyahu’s shadow, and after realising he would never get promoted to a key ministerial position, nor able to replace the PM in his seat, he decided to quit, pulling with him a number of other defectors.
This is the reason why Saar is not expected to change his stance on the PM and this means that the prospect of him establishing a right-wing government is rather low.
Hope Dies Last
Precisely because of this, Netanyahu is also mulling over another scenario, namely establishing a government with the three religious parties plus Yamina, which would bring the PM to 59 lawmakers in the chamber.
He will still need two more signatures to remain in his seat. Initially, the plan was that he would join forces with Raam, an Islamic party with purported links to the Muslim Brotherhood. But as his hawkish coalition partners struggled to swallow that pill and vowed not to sit down in a government with “terrorist supporters”, Netanyahu came to the conclusion that he’d need to find escape routes.
One of these would be to attract a couple of defectors from among his rivals. Such a move is deemed highly unlikely, primarily because it would unleash a severe smear campaign against those, who would dare to do so.
Another one could be convincing influential Israeli rabbis to put pressure on some members of the religious parties, who are vehemently against Raam, to give that union a chance.
And a third one would be to establish a 53-member strong government, while keeping Raam and hawkish elements that object to the Islamic party out of the coalition.
Their role would be to support such a government from the outside, without taking ministerial jobs or filling key positions.
Previously, Batzalel Smotrich, the leader of the Religious Zionist Party and the main opponent to a union with Raam, stated that he would not give his hand to any cooperation with the Islamic entity. But as the clock is ticking and Israelis reject the possibility of a fifth round of elections, the hawkish politician might not have a choice.
This is something Netanyahu is counting on.