Shimon Peres to Ask Benjamin Netanyahu to Form Israel's Next Government

Over two days of consultations, 82 Knesset members ask the president to tap Netanyahu to head the next coalition government.

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

President Shimon Peres decided on Thursday to ask current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to set up Israel's next government.

Peres is expected to make the official announcement on Saturday evening at a ceremony at the President's Residence.

On Wednesday and Thursday, Peres conducted a series of consultations with the various parties elected to the next Knesset.

Out of 120 Knesset members, 82 recommended to the president that Netanyahu lead the next government. These included the members of Likud-Beiteinu, Yesh Atid, Habayit Hayehudi, Shas, United Torah Judaism and Kadima.

The rest of the lawmakers told Peres that they would not recommend anyone to head the new government.

"The last time our party had 12 seats, I was 5 years old," Habayit Hayehudi chair Naftali Bennett told Peres on Thursday.

Referring to expected attempts to promote a new law mandating universal IDF service, including for the ultra-Orthodox, Bennet said, "The nation wants to connect the ultra-Orthodox public to Israeli society, with wisdom and love, out of an understanding that they are our brothers."

After meeting with the president, Bennett held a first meeting with Likud-Beiteinu's number two, Avigdor Lieberman, to assess the possibility of his party entering the new coalition.

Many of the parties that see themselves as potential partners in the next government pushed the issue of drafting yeshiva students into the army during their discussions with the president.

The ultra-Orthodox parties called on Peres to step in and use the power of his office to prevent Yesh Atid and Habayit Hayehudi from advancing a law that would mandate a "sharing of the burden," the term used to refer to drafting the ultra-Orthodox into the IDF.

One of Shas' leaders, Aryeh Deri, gave Peres a letter on Thursday on behalf of party spiritural leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef warning that such a move would cause a divide the country.

"The rabbi has sent you a letter. In this letter he expresses his concern about a rift in the nation, God forbid, and his hope that you, the president, are the only one who can find a solution and a common denominator," Deri told the president.

"It's not a coalition issue. It really is a subject that is liable to cause a rift in the nation. We declared throughout the election campaign that we will recommend Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister, and we are keeping our promise. Although we have fears, we have no official information. We hope for the formation of as broad a government as possible.”

Eli Yishai added his own concern: “One of the subjects that most concerns me is the attempt by certain people, who are focusing on an attempt to destroy the world of Torah, to bring about a rift in the nation. We believe that it is thanks to the Torah that we are here in the Land of Israel. Any attempt to close the world of Torah and to undermine the faith of the Jewish people will lead to a rift in the nation. I'm very worried. I feel that there's a very dangerous process going on. The point is that nobody will succeed in harming Torah scholars."

Officials responding on behalf of the president said in response to Shas' letter that, in light of the "great pressure" exerted by the parties, Peres is likely to take upon himself the task of mediating between the ultra-Orthodox parties and the coalition partners regarding the issue.

UTJ also urged Peres to intervene on this issue. “Anyone who wants to learn Torah must be allowed to do so,” MK Yaakov Litzman stressed.

While Peres didn’t commit to that, he did accede to another UTJ request: to formally tap Netanyahu to form the government only on Saturday night, rather than Friday as originally planned, so that coalition negotiations couldn’t formally begin on Shabbat.

Labor Party chairwoman Shelly Yacimovich said she didn’t recommend anyone as prime minister at her meeting with Peres, because “there’s no candidate close to our positions capable of forming a government.”

“National responsibility comes before everything,” she added. “We’ll give full backing to any necessary security measures. We’ll back the government on any step to advance peace. But we’ll do this from the opposition.”

Israeli President Shimon Peres meets with representatives of Likud-Beitenu party in Jerusalem, January 30, 2013. Credit: Reuters

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