President Reuven Rivlin on Tuesday picked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to try and form a new government after an unprecedented fourth election in under two years.
Rivlin said no candidate has a real chance of forming new government, but decided to task Netanyahu, amid his corruption trial, as he had received the most endorsements.
Netanyahu now has 28 days to try and form a coalition, and may also receive a two-week extension from the president once that time has alloted.
“No candidate has a realistic chance of forming a government that will have the confidence of the Knesset,” Rivlin said. If the law allowed, Rivlin said, he would have given the decision back to the Knesset to resolve.
“I know the position held by many, that the president should not give the role to a candidate that is facing criminal charges,” Rivlin added, noting that this was “not an easy decision.” The charges facing Israel’s longest-serving premier – including bribery, fraud and breach of trust – posed an extraordinary choice for the Rivlin over whether “morality” should be a factor in who should lead a government.
Netanyahu was endorsed by 52 lawmakers, falling short of a 61-seat majority. Members of Likud, Shas, United Torah Judaism and Religious Zionism have endorsed Netanyahu. Another 45 lawmakers recommended Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid: members of his own party, Kahol Lavan, Labor, Yisrael Beitenu and Meretz. Yamina's seven lawmakers recommended party leader Naftali Bennett. New Hope, the Joint List and the United Arab List told the president that they were unable to endorse any of the candidates.
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Rivlin consulted with party leaders on Monday to deteremine who has the best chance to form the next government.
Bennett and Lapid have been holding intensive talks over the past two days in an effort to form a joint government, brokered by New Hope lawmaker and former Likud member Zeev Elkin.
Had these discussions begun earlier, Elkin told President Reuven Rivlin, the anti-Netanyahu bloc may have come to an agreement on a candidate for prime minister by Monday, when recommendations to the president were given.
Lapid responded to Rivlin's decision by saying the president “had no choice, but granting Netanyahu the mandate is a shameful mark that stains Israel and disgraces our status as a law-abiding country.”
Reuters contributed to this report.