Netanyahu’s Concern Court Could Block Him From Staying on as PM Stalled Unity Talks

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Benjamin Netanyahu, Jerusalem, March 2020.
Benjamin Netanyahu, Jerusalem, March 2020.Credit: AFP

With only hours to go before Knesset Speaker Benny Gantz must hand back his mandate to form a new government on Monday, coalition negotiations between his Kahol Lavan party and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud go on, in an attempt to establish a coalition before the end of the week.

Last week, an agreement seemed almost finalized. Likud took issue with the matter of judicial appointments; now, this has almost been abandoned, after Netanyahu’s party realized the prime minister might fall into a trap.

The proposed coalition agreement would be enshrined in law through a detailed amendment to the Basic Law on the Government, legally reducing the government terms to three years, and automatically transferring the prime ministership to Gantz in eighteen months. Crucially, according to the proposed law, if early elections are called or Netanyahu has to leave his post, Gantz would replace him.

Netanyahu has now realized that if the High Court of Justice rules he is unable to serve as prime minister because of the indictments filed against him, Gantz will automatically become prime minister. Likud asked to make changes to the agreement that would allow the Knesset to override the ruling with legislation, but Kahol Lavan objects to this request – for now.

On Saturday, Netanyahu spoke with the heads of right-wing parties in the Knesset, and is now focusing his efforts on pressuring President Reuven Rivlin to ask him to form the new government when Gantz’s mandate runs out. Likud sources believe that Rivlin will skip over Netanyahu unless he can bring 61 Knesset members to recommend him for the prime minister’s post. Because such recommendations to the president are done at the party level and not as individuals, the only outfits that could provide Netanyahu with the 61 seats are Labor and Kahol Lavan faction Derech Eretz, and neither of them have any intention of doing so.

If Rivlin instead hands over the choice of the next prime minister and government directly to the Knesset, then Kahol Lavan lawmaker Avi Nissenkorn will remain the chairman of the Knesset Arrangements Committee and, along with Benny Gantz as speaker, would be able to advance legislation that would prevent a person under indictment from serving as prime minister. During a conference call on Sunday, Kahol Lavan decided to first exhaust the possibilities of reaching a coalition agreement with Likud before resorting to legislation.

The negotiations continued on Sunday, in spite of the exchange of public statements between the two sides – and the two parties also exchanged a number of documents concerning the key points still in dispute. According to sources close to Netanyahu, the prime minister intends to reach an agreement, because a government with Gantz is more appealing than a short majority government in which Yamina politicians Naftali Bennett, the current Defense Minister, and Ayelet Shaked play a central role.