March 26, 2019

Would Trump Prefer an Israeli Unity Government?

“The government that will stand following the April 9 election will quite likely be a national unity government joining a populist party with shades of liberalism and a right-wing party with shades of racism. Until the last-minute it will be hard to predict which one would win the necessary support to ensure the prime minister’s office for itself. It depends on the party’s ability to form a bloc of at least 61 mandates (a clear Knesset majority) to oppose granting the prime minister’s role to the head of the other camp. A tie could also lead to a rotation between the leader of the Blue and White party, Benny Gantz, and the leader of the Likud. We can assume that this will not be Prime Minister and Likud head Benjamin Netanyahu. After all, Gantz had promised not to join a government with him in light of the attorney general’s declared intention to indict him.

The important milestones of the election cycle are already behind us: The political map was shaped when the parties submitted their list of candidates for the Knesset, and the attorney general announced his intention to bring Netanyahu to trial, following a hearing. Two large lists will vie in the political arena, and it is expected that Gantz’s party will be slightly larger than the Likud, and that the election will be decided by the small parties that would or would not pass the vote threshold of four Knesset seats. The two large parties are deciding whether to undertake a wide effort to recruit every possible vote to their camp in order not to lose votes to the small parties, or whether to undertake an opposite effort, to accept a loss of mandates to the small parties in their bloc in order to ensure that they pass the vote threshold and would be partners in the next coalition.

The question of who the president will charge with an attempt to form the next government — the largest party or the leader that the greatest number of Knesset members recommends — has become decisive. The answer is not so complicated. If 61 Knesset members recommend a certain person to President Reuven Rivlin, he will not have discretion and he will charge him with forming the government even if he heads the smallest party. But usually, not all the parties recommend a candidate and the president holds another round of consultations, during which other parties reveal their cards. The president can then decide which candidate has the best chance of successfully forming a government. If his decision does not make sense, the High Court can get involved, something that has never happened in Israel’s history. If one party receives significantly more votes than the runner-up, but the number of recommendations from each of the two camps is even, the president could charge the head of the largest party with forming the government. If he is not able to form a coalition, he would have to return the mandate to the president, who would then grant that task to his rival.”

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