Netanyahu Didn't Call Early Election Over Fear President Won't Let Him Keep Seat, Report Says

President Reuven Rivlin firmly denies the report by Yisrael Hayom that he wouldn't let Netanyahu form a government, blasting it as 'paranoia'

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu / President Reuven Rivlin.
Marc Israel Sellem, Olivier Fitoussi

Israeli coalition whip David Amsalem (Likud) said on Wednesday he would promote a bill that would limit the president's discretion in the decision on who to appoint to form a government after the elections.

A report in the Israeli daily Yisrael Hayom claimed the initiative was born out of a fear around those close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that President Reuven Rivlin would lay the task on another Knesset member, in light of the former's corruption probes.

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The president's bureau denied the report, saying: "We read the report in depth but had a hard time finding any credible information, save for a detailed description of paranoia which does not lean on any tangible step, or even thought, that happened in reality. As is known, the handling of such phenomena should be left to professionals, who are not spokesmen."

Netanyahu decided to hold off on early elections due to concern over Rivlin's decision, according to the report. However, according to a publication on Kan Public Radio, Habayit Hayehudi chairman Naftali Bennett assessed during a closed Knesset meeting that Netanyahu is looking to have an early election around February or March.

"I don't listen to Netanyahu's statements but his behavior," the education minister was quoted as saying.

Sources close to Netanyahu denied the report, saying it originated from a former Likud senior official, who also spoke to several coalition members.

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Amsalem called the report "delusional on every level. It's immoral, undemocratic and illogical." He stressed he doesn't believe such a scenario, in which Rivlin doesn't task Netanyahu with forming the government if Likud wins, would happen.

"But sadly, obvious things can also receieve a twisted interpertation and be abused. That is why I'll draft a bill to put things in order," he said.

The head of the party is the most dominant person in it and the one bringing most of the votes, Amsalem said. "The president has the legal authority to act according to logic and not manipulate. Because this is not written in the law, I intend to present a bill that the president will lay the responsibility of forming a government on the party chairman."

Amsalem's initiative is not new. Netanyahu opened the previous elections with a demand to take away the president's authority to grant the duty of forming a government, and to determine it be laid on the head of the largest party. This was pushed under the campaign title: "Vote Likud to change the system." Netanyahu ran a similar campaign two years prior with the slogan "Netanyahu, to change the system."

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According to Yisrael Hayom, a source within Likud close to Rivlin spoke in recent days to lawmakers in the party and a "media personality associated with Likud, and asked them to play along.

A political source assumed that Amsalem's bid was meant to pressure Rivlin into giving a public assurance that the criminal cases against Netanyahu will not factor into his decision whether to lay the task of forming a government on the prime minister.

Rivlin has yet to address the matter, and his bureau's statement on Wednesday mentions no obligation he won't take Netanyahu's legal situation into consideration. The move may concurrently lead future coalition partners to come out now with their intentions to recommend him when consulting the president.

The Basic Law on the Government stipulates that the Israeli president tasks one of the members of Knesset with forming a government, this after consulting with all the different faction members. The law does not state the MK has to be the chairman of the largest party.

The proposal Amsalem intends to pitch will determine that the president will mandate the MK who garnered the most support.