Israeli President Reuven Rivlin officially tasked on Wednesday Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with forming Israel's 35th government, following two days of consultations with representatives of all parties elected to Knesset.
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"In a democracy, the majority rules, and the majority has spoken," Rivlin said in a ceremony held in his official residence in Jerusalem. "You have won, for the fifth time, the trust of this dear nation."
"This was a tough election campaign. Things were said that should not have been said, from all sides; not in a democratic state and not in the Jewish state," he said. "The iron wall should be between us and our enemies, not inside our own home, not between us."
"The strength of our economy and our society is the key to our strength in security and diplomacy," he added. Only an Israel that is strong from within projects strength outwards. 'Us and them' is over. From now on, it's just 'us'. Now is the time to stop fighting 'them' and to regain belief in 'us'. To fight for our home, a place where secular, religious and ultra-Orthodox, Jews and Arabs, left and right can find their place – as equal partners."
Rivlin also said: "Unfortunately, this Knesset will have far fewer women than the previous Knesset. I hope that the new Knesset and government will include women ministers and committee chairs, and ensure that the voice of women is present and clearly heard."
Netanyahu said "This is the fifth time I take on myself the task of forming Israel's government. I'm excited just as the first time, and in a sense even more … I'll do everything to justify the trust the public has put in me."
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The prime minister also said he will work for "the people in its entirety, those who voted for me and those who didn't," and promised to form a "stable government."
Parties threaten with another election
Parties representing a majority of 65 out of 120 Knesset members – Netanyahu's Likud, ultra-Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism, Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu, the Union of Right-Wing Parties and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon's Kulanu – have recommended Netanyahu to form a coalition.
Netanyahu will now have 28 days to form his governing coalition. Should an extension be required, the president may approve additional 14 days.
Kahol Lavan, Labor and Meretz, who represent 45 seats, have all recommended Benny Gantz, while Arab-majority parties Hadash-Ta'al and United Arab List-Balad chose not to recommend anyone for the position.
Should Netanyahu fail in forming a governing coalition within the time allotted, the president may tap another lawmaker, who would have 28 days to do so. In the case that a second lawmaker also fails, new election would be announced.
Two party leaders have said they would prefer another election over giving up on their seemingly contradictory demands concerning drafting of ultra-Orthodox Jews to the Israel Defense Forces.
Lieberman said on Monday he wouldn't accept any changes to the proposed bill making military service mandatory for ultra-Orthodox men, which he lobbied for as defense minister. "If we will be in the presence of an alternative of giving up on the draft bill and remaining in the coalition or to be in the opposition, we'll go to election again," he said.
A day later, United Torah Judaism said it would rather go to election than allowing for compulsory service for ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students. "We'll stand our ground, so that any Torah scholar … can keep studying with no interruptions," the party said in a statement.