Under most circumstances, the role of Israel’s president is largely symbolic, but the inconclusive results of the most recent election give him a fair amount of discretion in overseeing the selection of a new prime minister. Yesterday, President Reuven Rivlin exercised this discretion when he denied the opposition leader Benny Gantz’s request for a two-week extension of the deadline for negotiating with the other parties to form a government. Rivlin did not, however, choose to give the incumbent prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu a chance to take the lead in cobbling together a coalition. Instead, as of midnight tonight, it is now up to the Knesset as a whole to decide who will be the next prime minister. Gil Hoffman explains Rivlin’s reasoning:
Gantz had lost the support of more than half the Knesset members who recommended he form the government [in the first place]. Netanyahu has a habit of stalling until the last moment in order to squeeze what he can out of any political lemon. [Thus Rivlin] rejected both Gantz and Netanyahu and gave the two of them the firm, drop-dead deadline that politicians really need in order to be forced to make decisions. He turned the spotlight on the two would-be prime ministers and told them: “You make the decision between a unity government and a fourth election during a debilitating pandemic.”
It is obvious what choice the public prefers after more than 100 deaths and 11,000 coronavirus cases. It is debatable whether an election could even be held, even if it is delayed until the latest possible date in September. There are barely enough of the spaceman-like suits to protect medical professionals in Israel. Imagine trying to get enough of those for all the Central Elections Committee secretaries who would be needed to man the more than 10,000 polling stations across the country.
Both [Netanyahu’s] Likud and [Gantz’s] Blue and White admit privately that the other options that have been raised do not really exist. Gantz is not going to pass the anti-Netanyahu legislation that would prevent the prime minister from forming a government, despite threatening for two months to do so. . . . Netanyahu is not going to get two more MKs to join the 59 in his center-right bloc to help him form a government without Blue and White.