Netanyahu Struggles to Form Coalition as Midnight Deadline Draws Near

“You shall appoint magistrates and officials for your tribes, in all the settlements that Hashem your God is giving you, and they shall govern the people with due justice.” Deuteronomy 16:18 (The Israel Bible™)

Netanyahu is scrambling to form a coalition as the deadline of midnight on Wednesday looms only a few hours away. If Netanyahu does not succeed in forming a coalition of parties comprising 61 seats, a majority of the 120 seats in the Knesset, new elections may be held. A bill was passed in the Knesset on Monday providing for such a possibility, setting the date for the new elections at September 3.

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After the elections on April 9, Likud was the winner with 36 seats, compared to 35 seats for Blue and White Party. President Rivlin chose Netanyahu to form a coalition government of a majority of the 120 seats that comprise the Knesset. As per the Basic Law on the Government, Netanyahu had 28 days to form a coalition but the president can grant a two-week extension. At the end of the initial period, Netanyahu requested and was granted a 14-day extension. This extension will end on Wednesday at which time Netanyahu may lose the mandate to form the new government.

The potential crisis came as a result of an impasse in negotiations with Avigdor Liberman, head of Yisrael Beiteinu, whose party won five seats in the last election. Without those five seats, Netanyahu will not have a majority. Liberman, representing secular right-wing voters, is insisting that the draft deferment for Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) yeshiva students be canceled. Netanyahu is also relying on the Haredi parties to form a coalition and they object to canceling the Haredi draft deferment. Liberman has been a political ally of Netanyahu and served as his defense minister until last November when he resigned his post.

Netanyahu announced on Tuesday that he had proposed a compromise which would allow the subject of Haredi draft quotas to be negotiated after legislation passed. He stated that the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism Party had agreed to the compromise. The solution was unacceptable to Liberman who told the media that “there is no compromise on the table.”

A spokesperson for Likud, Yonatan Orich, told the press that meetings between Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu had been suspended.

“Liberman refuses every offer and tries to buy time,” said Orich.

Also on Tuesday, Moshe Kahlon, head of the Kulanu party and the outgoing Finance Minister, announced that his party had agreed to merge with Likud, a move they had previously rejected.

If new elections take place, it will be the first time this has happened in Israeli history and will cost close to $160 million.

Another option would be for President Rivlin to give the mandate for forming a government to Benny Gantz at the head of the Blue and White Party.