President Reuven Rivlin on Wednesday night granted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with the authority to form the next government coalition, after a majority of Knesset members recommended renewing the incumbent's term as premier.
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In his remarks tasking Netanyahu with forming the coalition, Rivlin noted three tasks that must stand at the forefront of the next government: Stabilizing relations with the United States, Israel's most important ally; resuming the stability of the political system; and healing the "wounds" dividing Israeli society, which he said worsened during the election period.
After being granted the authority, Netanyahu said he was "as excited as though this was the first time, and I know very well the enormity of the responsibility given to me. Citizens of Israel, I want to thank all of you for the faith that you have given me to lead the state at this time. I see myself as the prime minister of each and every one of you. I will work to mend the gaps between that emerged between the various parts of society during the elections. We all must put the elections behind us and focus on what united me. I am committed to continuing on this path, the path of a Jewish and democratic state in which each of its citizens enjoy equal rights, regardless of race and gender. That is how it was and that is how it will be."
"We very much appreciate, and will make to preserve, our alliance with our good friend, the United States. We will continue to work to prevent an agreement with agreement that endangers us, our neighbors, and the world," Netanyahu added.
Rivlin: Fulfilling right to vote is not a curse
A few hours before passing the authority over to Netanyahu, Rivlin voiced criticism of the premier's Election Day warning that "Arabs are going to the polls in droves."
At a ceremony held earlier Wednesday night after the final election results were received, eight days after the vote, Rivlin said: "The high voter turnout is a blessing for democracy – woe is us if we see fulfilling the democratic obligation of voting as a curse. He who fears the votes in the ballot boxes will end up with stones thrown in the streets."
The president added that following the series of consultations held over the last week, he intended to grant the authority to "the candidate who was recommended by the majority of Knesset members, more than 61 MKs. This candidate is the one who will be given the first opportunity - and hopefully the only opportunity - to form the government."
Election Committee Chairman Salim Jubran said that high voter turnout, which reached 72.4 percent, "was significantly higher than that of the last election – the highest in dozens of years. The higher the voter turnout, the more than 20th Knesset will reflect the range of opinions and groups in the state. This is our pride in the elections committee."
Arab mayors on Wednesday said they rejected last week an overture made by mediatory forces to hold a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
A statement published by the Committee of Heads of Arab Local Authorities said that they had refused to meet Netanyahu and that they reject his remark on Election Day, in which the prime minister urged voters to go to the polls because "the Arabs are voting in droves."
The committee's statement said that the Arab citizens who took part in a meeting with Netanyahu earlier this week, in which Netanyahu apologized, "do not represent Israeli Arabs and their official institutions."
According to sources in the committee, the day after the elections they were approached by Haim Bibas, the chairman of the Union of Local Authorities who is considered close to Netanyahu, who offered to set up a meeting between Netanyahu and all of Israel's heads of Arab local authorities. The committee rejected the offer, they said, because it was not clear what the purpose of the meeting was.
"There is no problem sitting with the prime minister and other cabinet members in an official meeting, but only after the government is formed," they said.
The statement, signed by 63 Arab heads of local authorities, said that the committee does not rule out a meeting between panel members and Netanyahu after the formation of a government, but noted that the Arab population in Israel does not accept the prime minister's apology. It stressed that words were not enough and that they expect a change in policy.