Likud Blasts President for 'Meddling' in Elections as He Mulls Whether to Let Netanyahu Form Government

Rivlin calls for 'unconventional connections in forming gov't ■ Rivlin is due to hold meetings with party heads on Monday, after which he will decide whom should receive the mandate to try and form Israel's next government

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Central Election Committee chairman Uzi Vogelman hands the results to President Reuven Rivlin, today
Central Election Committee chairman Uzi Vogelman hands the results to President Reuven Rivlin, todayCredit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

Members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party accused President Reuven Rivlin of meddling in political matters Wednesday after he called for 'unconventional connections and cooperation' in Israel's next government. Rivlin will choose a candidate to form the next government after he meets with party leaders on Monday.

Rivlin received the official election results from Chairman of the Central Election Committee, Uzi Vogelman, on Wednesday, as coalition talks between party heads continued.

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"Seven years have yet to pass since I ascended to the presidency and this is the fifth time I have received the results of a Knesset election, the fourth time in under two years," Rivlin said.

"The main consideration that will guide me as I choose a candidate (to task with forming a government) is that Knesset member's chances of forming a government that would win the Knesset's support," Rivlin said. "A government that would heal the divides between us and heal Israeli society, which has been dealt a major blow in the shadow of the coronavirus pandemic." Rivlin added that Israel "needs a government that would pass a budget and extricate the state institutions from the political paralysis."

"I hope the elected officials will listen to the Israeli people," Rivlin concluded, "and the people's demand for unconventional connections and cooperation across different sectors of society for the sake of the citizens of Israel," Rivlin said. 

Likud party members, Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin, and Ministers Amir Ohana and Yuval Steinitz, accused President Reuven Rivlin of political meddling following his speech. "The president doesn't get to decide the election results!" a mutual statement by the three Likud members said.

"Since Israel's founding, each and every president has picked the candidate with the largest party – as it should be this time," they added. Likud won the most seats of any party in Israel's last election, however it does not have a clear path to form a government as a majority of Knesset members have said they would not join a government led by Netanyahu.

Religious Zionism MK Bezalel Smotrich also took to Twitter on Wednesday to fiercely censure what he described as "blatant interference in the political process." 

The far-right leader of the Religious Zionism party, which achieved six seats in Israel's fourth election in two years, condemned the president's comments as "favouring a leftist-Arab coalition led by Bennett."

"The people chose Netanyahu [for prime minister] unequivocally," Smotrich wrote, and slammed Rivlin's interjection as "anti-democratic."

New Hope Chairman Gideon Sa’ar, left, and Yesh Atid chief Yair Lapid at the Knesset. Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

In response to the statement by Likud slamming President Rivlin, Gideon Sa'ar, head of New Hope party, tweeted, "Likud's ferocious attack on President Rivlin, only days before his decision is due, is another step in a campaign, run by PM Netanyahu, against the state's symbols. Netanyahu wishes to eternally rule while crushing the all of the state's apparatuses. The time has come for him to step aside."

Yair Lapid, leader of the second largest party in the Knesset, Yesh Atid, also responded saying, “Likud’s attack on the president is yet another piece of evidence that there are only two options before us: Either Netanyahu’s rule continues to endanger the state institutions or the anti-Netanyahu bloc offers an alternative.”

Kahol Lavan head Benny Gantz joined Sa'ar and Lapid in their criticism, saying: “No state institution is safe from the prime minister and his accomplices' persecution – it started with the police, the state attorney and Israel’s High Court of Justice, and now it’s the president."

Gantz then urged Rivlin to complete his duty with "honesty and fairness," as he has done so far.

In response to criticism from the Likud, Rivlin’s office released a statement saying that the president would bestow the mandate to form a government on the candidate with the best chance of doing so.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Shas party leader Arye Dery in a file photo from 2015.Credit: Reuters

“The accusations against the president by the ministers and the Knesset speaker, dishonor those who spoke them, and it would have been better for them to say nothing at all,” the statement said. “As the president said, not an hour ago, the main consideration that will guide him in his choice of a candidate to form the next government is the candidate’s chances of forming a government that will earn the Knesset’s support,” the statement said. “This is how every president in Israel’s history has operated, and this is how the president operated in the previous election cycles."

Coalition talks

Meanwhile, coalition talks are underway between the various parties in the Knesset. Gideon Sa'ar of New Hope reached out to Lapid on Tuesday, calling on him to try and reach a majority to form a government.

"On election night, a week ago, I said we would act, without ego, to form a government of change. Today it is my duty to say: the game of collecting recommendations won't lead to forming a government, but rather a practical and swift effort to reach a parliamentary majority. The window of opportunity is limited," Sa'ar tweeted, tagging Lapid.

"I renounced my ego, now it's your turn," he added.

Lapid, for his part, tweeted that he would weigh all options but urged all parties to back him as canditate for prime minister.

Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz also said he would recommend that Yesh Atid's Yair Lapid gets tasked first with forming a government. "I will recommend him if I see it serves the purpose of replacing Netanyahu," Gantz said in an interview to Ynet.

However, when asked if Lapid could lead the next government, Gantz said he thought both Lapid and Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett are suitable for the role. When pressed if he would recommend Lapid to President Reuven Rivlin, Gantz said: "I want to see how we can reach 53 seats and then all that's missing is my eight." Gantz and Lapid are scheduled to meet on Wednesday.

The Joint List is scheduled to meet with Lapid on Thursday, but party leader Ayman Odeh said on an interview to a local radio station on Tuesday that the Yesh Atid leader should not expect the Joint List to automatically back him to form and lead the next government.

"Only after Lapid will prove he has a tally of 55 backers (out of 61 needed for Knesset majority) and the Joint List will lay out its demands, we'll make our decision," Odeh said.

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