Editorial

Israel Election Results: President Rivlin, 'Saving' Israel Is Not Your Job

Benny Gantz promised he would not join a government that included Benjamin Netanyahu

President Reuven Rivlin speaks during a consultation meeting with members of the Likud party, in Jerusalem, September 22, 2019.
Menahem Kahana / AP

Throughout the past two election campaigns, Kahol Lavan promised that it would not join a government that included Benjamin Netanyahu. Even when the possibility of a national unity government was raised, the party’s message to the public was clear and consistent: without Netanyahu; we will not sit with him. On the strength of that promise, more than 1 million Israelis voted for Benny Gantz and made Kahol Lavan Israel’s largest party.

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Then suddenly, acting on a directive from the state’s self-appointed national mediator, President Reuven Rivlin, the negotiating teams of Likud and Kahol Lavan met Tuesday at Kfar Maccabiah in an effort to reach “understandings.” This, after Gantz and the prime minister met with Rivlin on Monday in the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, where they were photographed together and even drafted a joint announcement. Gantz and Netanyahu are expected to return for a second meeting with the president Wednesday.

Rivlin drew the conclusion that because no candidate has a clear path to forming the next government, his room for discretion in the matter is “greater than ever.” He decided to reconcile the two sides and even offered his own formula for a unity government. “The first challenge is to build a direct channel of communication based on trust between the parties,” Rivlin said, adding: “The nation expects you to find a solution and avoid another election, at a cost that is personal and sometimes also ideological. This is not the time for boycotts.”

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It isn’t clear by what rights Rivlin took it upon himself to extend the boundaries of presidential discretion and implore the sides to renege on their promises to their voters. Rivlin is both mistaken and misleading when he describes not wanting to join a government with Netanyahu as a boycott. Kahol Lavan was established for the purpose of offering an alternative to Netanyahu and his corrupt and corrupting government.

Have the three indictments against Netanyahu, pending a hearing scheduled for next week, escaped Rivlin’s memory? Did the president forget so soon the prime minister’s patently anti-democratic attempts to escape justice, his efforts to pass laws tailored specifically for him, to discuss his immunity from prosecution in the framework of coalition negotiations, to wage fierce battles against the police, the prosecution, the attorney general, the state comptroller, the gatekeepers, the free media and Rivlin himself?

One of the president’s duties is to assign the job of forming a government to the person with the best chances of being able to do so, in this case Gantz or Netanyahu. If both fail, the task may be reassigned to a different Knesset member who has gathered the support of 61 MKs. In the event of failure, a new election will be called. It’s part of the democratic process, and “saving” the state from such a possibility by means of gross interference is not in the president’s job description.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.