Struggling to Form Coalition, Netanyahu Hails Direct Vote for PM as Way Out of Deadlock

With two weeks left before Netanyahu's mandate to form a government expires, the prime minister calls on Naftali Bennett to join forces, or 'it means he has joined the left'

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Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at an official ceremony marking Israel's Memorial Day, last week.
Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at an official ceremony marking Israel's Memorial Day, last week.Credit: Maya Alleruzzo/Pool via Reuters

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu backed on Monday the idea of a direct election for the role of prime minister, saying that "there's a solution" for Israel's ongoing political deadlock, with two weeks left before his mandate to form a government expires and with hardly any progress reported in coalition talks.

"Instead of forming absurd governments... there'll be direct election for prime minister," Netanyahu said ahead of a Likud faction meeting at the Knesset. "The public will elect the prime minister directly in a snap vote, without dissolving the Knesset."

Shas Chairman Arye Dery, who supports Netanyahu for prime minister, is leading the effort to pass legislation that would enable direct election of the prime minister. Shas lawmaker Michael Malkieli introduced the bill on Monday.

Netanyahu also said a key Knesset vote slated for later on Monday would be Naftali Bennett's "moment of truth." The two met shortly before Netanyahu's statement.

During the Likud meeting, Netanyahu sharply criticized Bennett. "Bennett said in the election that there won't be a prime minister with 10 seats because it's immoral and undemocratic, but that's what he is still trying to do right now with Lapid, Meretz, Labor and the Joint List," he said. "They are now discussing a left-wing government. They are calling it unity, but it's a government of the left … This clearly does not reflect Bennett's statements in the election."

Bennett's Yamina party is leaning toward supporting the prime minister's opponents in a vote on the composition of the Knesset's arrangements committee.

The arrangements committee is in charge of setting the Knesset’s agenda and dealing with legislation during the interim period between an election and the formation of a new government. Thus it will likely consider both opposition bills to undermine Netanyahu and bills the prime minister seeks to promote.

If the Knesset approves the anti-Netanyahu bloc’s proposal, Yamina will get two representatives on the panel rather than the single seat it was offered by Netanyahu’s Likud party. This could give it the decisive vote in many committee decisions.

Netanyahu called on Bennett and his right-wing party to vote with the bloc of pro-Netanyahu parties. "If he doesn’t do it, it means he has joined the left," the prime minister argued.

Kahol Lavan Chairman Benny Gantz, still a member of the Netanyahu-led interim government, warned Bennett in public remarks on Monday against "falling into Bibi's trap," arguing that letting Netanyahu stay in power means "taking part in the destruction of the Israeli society."

Also on Monday, Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid said once more he would like to see an "Israeli unity government" formed after Netanyahu's mandate to form a coalition expires.

Netanyahu still has two weeks left to try and form a coalition before May 4, although he may be granted a two-week extension by the president once that time has elapsed.

Lapid told a Sunday press briefing he had secured 45 lawmakers who would endorse him in a potential second round of consultations with President Reuven Rivlin.

Apart from his Yesh Atid party, with 17 out of 120 Knesset seats, Lapid is backed by Gantz’s Kahol Lavan, Labor, Yisrael Beiteinu and Meretz.

According to the Shas bill filed on Monday, the election for prime minister would be held within 30 days of the bill's passage. Candidates for prime minister would first have to secure endorsements from at least 20 Knesset members. 

The bill requires that the winning candidate for prime minister secure at least 40 percent of the vote. If no candidate receives the 40 percent, a runoff election would be held two weeks after the first round between the two top candidates.

It's doubtful that the Shas bill would resolve the current political stalemate, however, asit doesn't provide the newly elected prime minister with the means to form a governing coalition.

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