Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s mandate to form a new government will end Tuesday night. After the terrible disaster at Mount Meron, the possibility has been raised – by Netanyahu’s associates – that he might ask President Reuven Rivlin to give him more time. The pretext for this request is that due to the disaster, negotiations on forming a government were halted, so he needs the extra time. But this possibility must be taken off the table immediately.
Netanyahu was given 28 days to try to form a government. This is long enough to determine whether he has any chance of doing so. Since nothing related to his chances of success has changed during this period and Netanyahu himself admits that he can’t form a new government, the mandate to do so must be transferred to the pro-change bloc at midnight on Tuesday.
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The very fact that the mandate was initially given to Netanyahu – who has been charged with serious crimes and whose trial is currently proceeding apace – was a mistake. It highlighted the weakness of the current president, who claimed that “My hands are tied and this is what the law requires.”
Netanyahu’s legal situation has also affected his political situation, since there is inbuilt opposition in the Knesset, from the left all the way through parts of the right (Gideon Sa’ar, Avigdor Lieberman), to the possibility of Netanyahu forming another government. Even Rivlin himself, at the ceremony where he conferred the mandate on Netanyahu, cast doubt on his ability to do so, even though Netanyahu received the most recommendations from lawmakers and the ultra-Orthodox parties are staunchly loyal to him.
But whatever constitutional pressure Rivlin felt to grant Netanyahu the initial mandate, the situation is completely different when it comes to extending the mandate. Without getting into the question of what responsibility the prime minister and his ministers bear for the disaster at Mount Meron or their capitulation to political pressure on this issue – important questions that should be thoroughly investigated by a state commission of inquiry – there is no reason why, after 28 days of vain attempts to form a government, Netanyahu should be given an extension just because a disaster occurred four days before his mandate expires. That would be like awarding a prize to Netanyahu and his failed government.
The time has come to put an end to Netanyahu’s policy of tricks and shticks, which has become the hallmark of his government. The trial balloons full of hot air that Netanyahu’s mouthpieces have sent up to test how far Israeli democracy and good government can be undermined must meet with adamant refusals. Immediately after Netanyahu’s mandate to form a government expires, Rivlin must state plainly and clearly that he has transferred the mandate to the pro-change bloc.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.