President Reuven Rivlin is consulting with party leaders to decide which candidate to task with forming a government after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's mandate expired on Tuesday at midnight with no breakthrough in coalition talks, prolonging Israel's unprecedented political stalemate that has seen voters return to the polls four times in less than two years.
By law, Rivlin now has three days to decide whether to give the mandate to Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid, Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett, or whether to give the Knesset a chance to find 61 MKs who can agree on a candidate to form a coalition.
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Rivlin met with Yamina's chairman Bennett, where the latter reiterated his desire to be tasked with the mission of forming a coalition. The president met with Lapid earlier Wednesday morning, who also reiterated his request to receive the mandate.
The President's Residence issued a statement to party leaders, inviting them to to present their candidate to the president by 2:00 P.M., before he makes his decision.
Thus far, Yesh Atid, Kahol Lavan, New Hope, Yisrael Beiteinu, Meretz and Labor have recommended Lapid be tasked with forming the government. Five out of six Joint List representatives recommended Lapid, with the party's Balad faction objecting. This gives Lapid the support of 56 lawmakers out of 120. Yamina recommended Bennett.
Right-wing Sa'ar's recommendation of Lapid over Bennett points to the willingness of all the parties to establish a unity government composed of right, center and leftist parties. Political sources say that if Bennett were given the mandate, he would likely be pressured to negotiate with the Likud and form a right-wing government, rather than cooperate with parties from other parts of the political spectrum.
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Likud, United Torah Judaism, Shas and Religious Zionism recommended that the president give the mandate back to the Knesset. The right-wing bloc made the decision after Bennett refused to commit to forming a right-wing government, and insisted in continuing negotiations with all the parties.
The United Arab List did not recommend any specific candidate to the president. However, UAL said they would support any candidate who needed their votes to form a government and agreed to their demands in coalition talks.
Likud issued a statement calling on Bennett and Yamina's number two, Ayelet Shaked, to "commit to be part of the right-wing block," which would give "a majority in the Knesset to form a right-wing government."
Meanwhile, Bezalel Smotrich, the leader of Religious Zionism, told the president that his faction supports transferring the mandate to the Knesset, and that this will “maximize the chances of forming a government.”
“We will only sit in government with parties from the nationalist camp,” the letter said.
“From our acquaintance with Bennett and Shaked, we find it difficult to see them sitting in a government where they serve as a fig leaf for a far-left government and pro-terrorist parties that deny our right to exist here in a Jewish state,” Smotrich added.
A political source said that barring any last-minute changes in the coalition discussions, Rivlin will give the mandate to Lapid, although Bennett may end up being prime minister first in a rotation between the two. This source said granting the mandate to Lapid would strengthen the chance to form a government based on the “change” bloc, which is probably the only coalition possible in the Knesset that was elected.