Rivlin Unlikely to Extend Netanyahu's Deadline to Form Government, Sources Say

With deadline approaching, Likud sources not sure whether Netanyahu would drag things out until the last minute or return the mandate to president

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to President Reuven Rivlin during the state memorial ceremony for the fallen soldiers of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, at the Hall of Remembrance on Mt. Herzl in Jerusalem on October 10, 2019.
AFP

With one week left until the expiration of the 28-day period given Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to form a government, the general assessment is that President Reuven Rivlin will not give the prime minister a two-week extension, but instead transfer the mandate to Kahol Lavan’s Benny Gantz, who would then have 28 days to try to form a coalition.

Although Netanyahu told Rivlin when they met three weeks ago that he planned to return the mandate to the president within days if talks reached a dead end, he hasn’t done so. Likud sources weren’t sure whether Netanyahu would drag things out until the last minute or return the mandate to Rivlin in the coming days.

According to some Likud sources, Netanyahu is holding onto the mandate for two reasons. The first is an effort to “extort” a promise from Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman that he will not support a narrow left-wing coalition made up of Kahol Lavan, Labor and Democratic Union, with the external support of the Joint List. To date Lieberman has not dismissed such a possibility, although in Likud they have difficulty believing he would be a party to this.

The second reason is to try to align the political schedule with Netanyahu’s legal schedule. Netanyahu is hoping Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit will remove the charge of bribery from the draft indictment in Case 4000 – the Bezeq-Walla case – which Likud sources say would increase the pressure on Kahol Lavan to agree to a rotation arrangement – either while Gantz attempts to form a government or during the 21 days following it, in which the Knesset is permitted to propose its own candidate for prime minister.

A decision on the indictments against Netanyahu is not expected in the next few days, but using up the days allotted to Netanyahu to form a government makes it likelier that Mendelblit’s decision will come in before the time for forming a government runs out.

Lieberman said on Tuesday that he’s still waiting for an answer from Likud’s negotiating team to his proposal that they draw up guidelines for a unity government before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s allotted time to form a government ends next Wednesday.

“We’re still waiting for an answer from the negotiating team in order to start meetings and draft guidelines acceptable to most Israelis,” he said. “Unfortunately, the answer hasn’t yet arrived. But we have time and patience; we’ll wait.”

Lieberman was speaking during a tour of Herodium by his party’s Knesset members.

He also reiterated his demand for a broad, liberal government. “We would truly be happy to hear from the prime minister that he’s dismantling the bloc he created with the ultra-Orthodox and the messianists, and then there’d be something to talk about,” he said.

In addition, he denied that he would be willing to cooperate with the Arab parties’ Joint List and accused Netanyahu of having done so himself throughout his years in power.

Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz, who hosted Likud activists at his home in Kfar Ahim Tuesday evening, used the occasion to assail Lieberman, whom he termed “the man more responsible than anyone else for the paralysis of Israel’s political system.”

“Lieberman carried out a political assassination of Netanyahu and Likud, out of personal vengefulness and a desire to destroy Likud,” he charged.

“This man, who never stopped knocking on Likud’s doors in recent years in an effort to join its ranks, acted like the false mother in Solomon’s trial,” he added. He was referring to the Biblical story of a woman who said she would rather see a baby cut in two than give him to another woman, leading King Solomon to conclude that she wasn’t the child’s real mother.

Katz urged Gantz’s Kahol Lavan party to form a unity government with Netanyahu. “In this Knesset, there is no government without Likud, and there is no Likud without Netanyahu,” he said. “And if you force us into new elections, the same will be true then, too.”

Nevertheless, he reiterated that he intends to run for head of Likud once Netanyahu leaves politics.