Rivlin Expected to Pick Lapid to Form Gov't, Even if Bennett Has More Support From Parties

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid, March 2021.
Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid, March 2021.Credit: Sebastian Scheiner,AP
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

President Reuven Rivlin is expected to pass the mandate to form a government to Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid, according to a number of political sources who spoke with Haaretz on condition of anonymity.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s 28-day mandate to put together a coalition expires Tuesday midnight, and it is considered increasingly unlikely that he will be able to form a government by then.

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Rivlin is expected to begin consulting Wednesday morning with the heads of all parties represented in the Knesset. Each party can recommend a preferred candidate for prime minister, but the law allows the president to give the mandate to any lawmaker.

They sources said Rivlin would give Lapid the mandate even if Netanyahu’s Likud and other parties on the right recommend giving it to Yamina Chairman Naftali Bennett – and even if those parties have a majority.

“There’s no reason why the mandate shouldn’t go to Lapid, unless Bennett were to announce publicly that he has no interest in a government of change,” said one source. “Rivlin won’t lend a hand to a political game in which Netanyahu recommends Bennett only in order to improve the odds of his being prime minister going into the next election. If there was any scenario in which Netanyahu could form a government, he could form a government today and there would be no need to hand the mandate to Bennett.”

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This assessment rests on the current political situation and may change if Netanyahu pulls any rabbits out of his hat in the remaining time left to his mandate.

Another senior political source said he believed that the senior partner in Bennett’s party, Ayelet Shaked is one of the few people threatening to thwart Yamina’s joining the center-left bloc. However, Shaked has made clear that she won’t break up the party and will respect any decision that Bennett makes regarding coalition talks.

Knesset sources see Rivlin probably going in one of two directions, either giving the mandate to the change bloc or returning the mandate to the Knesset, a move that would require every candidate seeking to form a government to enlist the support of 61 lawmakers – that is, a majority of the legislature’s 120 members – for his or her candidacy.

“President Rivlin is well aware that if he gives the mandate back to the Knesset, he is effectively decreeing a fifth election. There’s no chance that the Joint List and the United Arab List will sign a recommendation to appoint Bennett,” said one source. As long as Netanyahu can’t show he can form a government of the right, it appears that Rivlin will give the mandate to Lapid, the source said.

Whether Lapid or Bennett gets the mandate to form a government, the issue of who will be Israel’s next president is expected to become a major issue in the coalition talks that follow. Rivlin’s seven-year term expires in July. The president is elected by the Knesset.

The Knesset speaker has until May 19 to set a date for the presidential election. It is expected to be June 9 at the latest.

“The election for president will create extra pressure on the negotiations between the parties,” a Knesset source told Haaretz. “If they want to remove Netanyahu from politics by making him president, it needs to be on the table now. Netanyahu’s attempts to shape facts and name a presidential candidate who will help him by giving a pardon or the mandate after a fifth election, he’ll have to bring it to the table in the next few days,” said the source.

Bennett was preparing Monday for the possibility of forming a government with the so-called change bloc. In the closed part of his party’s Knesset caucus meeting, he told Yamina lawmakers, “If someone isn’t coming into a unity government, the time to tell me is today.” His remarks were aimed at ensuring he would be able to bring his entire faction into a unity government and reduce the chances of his party splintering if it joins Lapid.