On Tuesday, Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu handed over the difficult task of trying to form a government from the country’s divided parliament, giving the incumbent leader a chance to extend his long tenure while on trial for corruption charges.
In his announcement, President Reuven Rivlin acknowledged that no party leader had the necessary support to form a 120-seat majority coalition in the Knesset. He also noted that many believe Netanyahu is unfit to serve in light of his legal problems.
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Nevertheless, Rivlin said there was nothing in the law that prevented Netanyahu from serving as prime minister. After consulting the 1
“No candidate has a realistic chance of forming a government that will trust the Knesset,” Rivlin said. But, he added, Netanyahu has a “slightly higher chance” of being able to do so.
“I have decided to leave the task to him,” said Rivlin of Jerusalem. Rivlin added that the election was “not an easy decision on a moral and ethical basis.”
With that, Rivlin pushed forward the twin dramas about the country’s future and Netanyahu’s fate and gave Israel’s longest-serving prime minister a second chance to try to save his career. Netanyahu now has up to six weeks to try to rally a coalition together during his trial.
Early reactions from the prime minister’s sworn rivals highlighted the difficult road ahead.
Yair Lapid, leader of the party that won the second-highest number of seats, acknowledged that the law left Rivlin “no choice”, but in the same tweet condemned the development as “a shameful disgrace that stains Israel.”
A court decision can be months or even years away. The procedure is expected to take place up to three days a week, an embarrassing and time-consuming distraction that will overshadow Netanyahu’s appeals to his rivals.
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Netanyahu holds the most support – 52 seats – in the Israeli Knesset. But it still lacks a 61-seat majority. He will likely use his persuasive powers to try to lure a number of opponents, including a number of former close aides, who have promised never to serve under him again with generous offers from powerful government ministries or legislative committees.
Parties representing 45 members supported Yair Lapid, while Yamina with seven seats nominated its own leader, Naftali Bennett. Three parties with a total of 16 seats made no recommendation.
Rivlin’s decision merges questions about Netanyahu’s legal and political future into what is perhaps the strongest political challenge of his career.
In court, he faces fraud, breach of trust and bribery charges in three separate cases. The procedure resumed on Tuesday, although the prime minister was not expected to appear in court.
A key witness Monday cast Netanyahu as an image-obsessed leader who forced a prominent news site to help his family and lubricate his opponents.
Netanyahu denies all charges and in a national television speech accused prosecutors of persecuting him in an attempt to drive him out of the office.
“This is what a coup attempt looks like,” he said.
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Monday’s trial focused on the most serious case against Netanyahu – where he is accused of promoting rules that provided hundreds of millions of dollars in profits to the Bezeq telecommunications company in exchange for positive coverage on the company’s popular news site, Walla.
Ilan Yeshua, Walla’s former editor – in – chief, described a system in which Bezeq’s owners, Shaul and Iris Elovitch, repeatedly pressured him to publish favorable things about Netanyahu and smear the prime minister’s rivals.
The explanation he got from the couple? “That is what the Prime Minister wanted,” he said.