Yesh Atid chairman MK Yair Lapid has until Wednesday night next week (June 2) to present his coalition government to President Rivlin or surrender his mandate. At this point, Yesh Atid estimates that Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett’s faltering negotiations with the Likud of the past week, and the growing prospect of a fifth election, may cause Bennett agree to join a rotation, right-to-left government that relies on the support of at least one Arab party, most likely Mansur Abbas’s Ra’am.
Since Bennett’s announcement, under fierce pressure from his rank and file and from his political partner MK Ayelet Shaked, that he was pulling out of negotiations with Lapid (Ayelet Shaked Gave Bennett an Ultimatum: Either You Quit the Lapid Talks or We Split), the Yamina chairman has been plied with a mess of offers from PM Benjamin Netanyahu.
Walla reported on Sunday that Bibi’s most recent proposal included the role of Defense Minister and Acting Prime Minister for Bennett (for when Bibi is away making peace with another Arab country), additional positions in the government and in the Knesset for Yamina party MKs, and a particularly luring offer to reserve seven seats for Yamina on the Likud slate—top 40 spots—should no government is formed and fifth elections are held.
This last one is particularly tempting, since Yamina is projected to be abandoned by its voters to the point where it could fail to cross the vote threshold in the coming elections. This rejection has to do with many Yamina voters feeling betrayed by Bennett, who promised them a right-wing agenda and moved straight to negotiating with the left. Also, the polls are showing Bezalel Smotrich’s Religious Zionism rising nicely, probably by attracting Bennett’s voters.
Unfortunately for Bennett, Netanyahu has this peculiar habit of reneging on his promises, sometimes even as he is making them. Everything he had offered Yamina in the last round of negotiations, including the post of PM during the first half of a rotation government, has been scrapped and is like the dust of the earth—very Passover eve.
Haaretz reported on Sunday that Lapid is working on signing up the “Bloc of Change” parties to coalition agreements, even though the political experts say he doesn’t have a chance of putting together his right-to-left unity government – united by a burning desire to replace Netanyahu. Israel’s playboy politician has turned out to be a hard worker, undeterred by temporary failures. When he gets Meretz, Labor, Israel Beiteinu, and New Hope to commit on paper, and gets a handshake deal from Ra’am, Lapid intends to offer Bennett a done deal, no complications, just sign here and immediately join a rotating government with you, Bennett, at the helm. According to Haaretz, Lapid plans to do this shortly before the end of his mandate, when the risk of disappearing once again from Israeli politics will make Bennett et al sweat (Yamina already failed the threshold vote once).
By the way, other polls are showing this week that Yamina is picking up a vote, but Bennett and Shaked have learned already that polls are very deceiving. They won their current 7 seats after the polls had already given them 22.
The biggest challenge besides Bennett is New Hope chairman Gideon Sa’ar. Without Bennett, Sa’ar would be Lapid’s only right-wing partner (you probably thought Israel Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Liberman was a right-winger – he isn’t, he defines himself as a liberal, the UK, not US model). Other than loathing Netanyahu, Sa’ar and Lapid simply do not share any agenda item.
But Sa’ar is trapped: having run almost exclusively on the fact that he is the true Likudnik and his goal is to remove Netanyahu, he can’t quite join a Netanyahu-led, or even a Netanyahu-included coalition. So Sa’ar has to justify to his voters joining parties like Meretz and Labor, literally the antithesis of his political views. This could prove too tricky even for his considerable political experience.
According to the Basic Law: The Government (as long as the High Court doesn’t decide to take it out on a walk), MK Yair Lapid had 28 days which cannot be extended to try to form a stable government. On June 2 at midnight (the night between next Wednesday and Thursday) – Lapid’s mandate will expire. Should he fail (which is almost certain), within 21 days a majority of 61 MKs may ask the president in writing to assign the position to an MK of their choice.
If such a request is submitted – the president is obligated the hand the mandate to the MK in question, who would then have 14 days to form a government – and that time limit cannot be extended.
Should the new MK also fail to form a government, or should no MK manage to assemble 61 MKs to endorse him, the 24th Knesset would dissolved before the end of its term and Israelis would go voting for the fifth time in two years.