Photo Credit: Gershon Elinson/Flash90
MKs Yair Lapid (L) and Naftali Bennett (archive).

After Benjamin Netanyahu’s mandate expired Tuesday at midnight and he returned it to President Reuven Rivlin following 28 days of attempts to form a government, the president will meet on Wednesday morning with Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett and Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid.

The President’s Residence issued a statement saying: “Shortly before midnight, Netanyahu announced to the President’s Residence that he had not been able to form a government and therefore he was returning the mandate to the President.”

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Some in Israel have recommended that the president return the mandate to Her Majesty’s government in London, but this move would probably not receive the support for the Knesset. Maybe the Supreme Court would go with it – mostly for the wigs.

With the expiration of the mandate, the president has two options that he must exercise within three days: to hand the mandate to another MK who has informed the president that he or she is willing to take on the assignment of cobbling a majority government, and this MK would have 28 days to form a government, no extensions; or the President informs the Speaker of the Knesset that he did not see the possibility of forming a government, at which point the Knesset would probably vote on its dispersal and Israel would go to a fifth election, probably in the week of Yom Kippur.

At this point, the president is meeting separately with Lapid and Bennett, but there’s a possibility for a joint meeting of all three. Knesset faction leaders interested in meeting with Rivlin must send in their positions in writing by 2 PM Wednesday.

Sources in the Likud said that the chances of their recommending Bennett were low because they fear that he would steal the mandate and form a right-wing government without a rotation and without Netanyahu.

The Likud officially announced on Tuesday night, just before midnight, that “due to Bennett’s refusal to commit to a right-wing government, which would certainly have led to the formation of a government with the addition of other Knesset members, Prime Minister Netanyahu has now returned the mandate to the president.”

It’s good to have a whipping boy.

Yesh Atid and the parties in the center-left bloc – Blue&White, Labor, and Meretz – hope that the president will give the mandate to Lapid, even if a scenario materializes in which the Likud, the Haredim, New Hope, and Religious Zionism—65 MKs altogether—reach an agreement and recommend that the mandate be given to Bennett.

The third possibility, which some of the elected Likud leaders are discussing behind Netanyahu’s back, according to reports, is a 65-member right-wing government led by Likud seniors Yuli Edelstein, Israel Katz, or Nir Barkat. Bennett has already stated that he would support such a government: he said that Yamina would join any right-wing government, with or without Netanyahu at its head. Gideon Sa’ar, whose party is Likud 2, the entire difference between it and the mother ship being Sa’ar’s promise to oust Netanyahu, would surely join such a government.

And even Bezalel Smotrich, chairman of Religious Zionism, should have no problem joining a right-wing government that isn’t supported by Islamists.

Incidentally, in the talks between Netanyahu and Bennett this week, Netanyahu demanded that his term as deputy prime minister in the first year of their rotation government with Bennett as Prime Minister include powers beyond the title of alternative PM. Netanyahu demanded that he continue to be responsible for Israel’s relations with the world powers, especially the United States and Russia.

Bennett did not refuse his demand outright, but after more than twenty years in politics, it is to be expected that he can spot a poison pill when one is served to him. A tenure in which Netanyahu is responsible for Israel’s key foreign relations means that Netanyahu would in fact continue to outline government policy, and despite their different titles, Bennett would be Bibi’s No. 2.

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David writes news at JewishPress.com.