Rivlin to Ask Attorney General if Netanyahu Can Form a Government After Indictment

Knesset's mandate to form a government expires in 10 days. President is preparing for the possibility that Netanyahu will receive necessary 61 signatures

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin during a ceremony on the 24th anniversary of former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination, at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem on November 10, 2019.
Emil Salman

President Reuven Rivlin plans to ask Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit for his legal opinion on whether a Knesset member can be given the mandate to form a government while under indictment.

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Rivlin is preparing for the possiblity that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu - who was recently charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three separate corruption cases - would receive sufficient amount backing from the Knesset to be given the mandate. 

As of now, the President's Residence has yet to check if there is a legal barrier to Netanyahu forming a government after being charged.

Last week, Mendelblit published a legal opinion saying that there are no legal grounds to force the prime minister to resign or take a leave-of-absence in light of his indictment. Mendelblit did not comment on whether Netanyahu will be allowed to form a government.

Ten days remain until the Knesset's mandate to form a government expires. Any Knesset member that is able to collect 61 signatures will receive a 14-day mandate from the president to attempt to form a government. If the Knesset does not present a candidate in the next ten days, the Knesset will be dissolved and the country will head to a third election.

Negotiation teams for Kahol Lavan and Likud met on Sunday, and said that "significant differences" remain between the two parties.

Likud and Kahol Lavan negotiations teams at their meeting with Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein at the Knesset, December 1, 2019.
Emil Salman

According to a statement by Kahol Lavan, the meeting was held in good spirits and another meeting may be held later in the week.

The negotiation teams met with Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein Sunday. Ministers Yariv Levin and Ze'ev Elkin attended the meeting on behalf of Likud, and Dr. Yoram Turbowitz and Shalom Shlomo on behalf of Kahol Lavan. The meeting was extended and the party teams continued negotiations without Edelstein.

Following the meeting, Likud said that they "agreed to major concessions, but Yair Lapid is still making every effort to thwart a unity government. If Lapid ceases to sabotage unity efforts, there is still a real possibility of preventing elections and form a unity government."

Kahol Lavan replied: "If anyone is thwarting a unity government it's Likud chairman Netanyahu, who has not yet faced that he lost the election, that the Likud is no longer the largest party, and that Kahol Lavan will not allow a man with three indictments to run the state. Netanyahu, release Israel."

Education Minister Rafi Peretz also said Sunday "We are not the U.K. or Italy, we don't have the privilege of holding a third election."

According to media reports Sunday, Yisrael Beiteinu chief Avigdor Lieberman intends to gather signatures from his party in support of both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz to have a second chance at forming a coalition, after both failed to do so following the September election.

Interior Minister Arye Dery addressed these reports later Sunday, calling them deceptive.

"Lieberman's signature story is fake, a fabrication, another one of his attempts to mock the political system," Dery wrote on Twitter Sunday morning. "Signing now makes no sense because there are 11 days left. Playing Lieberman's game is completely unnecessary. He will not join the right-wing bloc; he is more likely to support the left-wing Arab government."

Dery later added that he nevertheless collected the signatures of Shas members. "Later, and after consulting with leaders of the right-wing bloc, we will decide what to do, only after we get Yisrael Beiteinu's signatures," he wrote.